Officer Charlie Wilkie and his K9 Gator joined Law&Crime Network host Amy Dash on Thursday to show how they discovered the body of murdered eight-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle. Thanks to investigators, prosecutors had the evidence to convict murderer Donald Smith, who abducted Perrywinkle from a Walmart the night of June 21, 2013.
“You want to save the world, obviously,” he said. “You want to make everything right, and make everything end with a happy ending, but unfortunately, in these types of cases, the best thing you can do is help make sure the person responsible gets prosecuted because there’s not much you can do at that point.”
Wilkie walked Dash through how investigators caught Smith that day in 2013. He and Gator, who are now retired from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, started their 5 a.m. shift around the time when the AMBER alert went out. Wilkie described working on leads with other officers, and retracing Perrywinkle’s steps back at the Walmart.
The first break came when authorities found Smith. Wilkie said it started with Officer Elena Gonzalez. She went through a database of white male sex offenders matching Smith’s description, found Smith’s picture, and discovered he had a white Dodge van. Rayne Perrywinkle, Cherish’s mother, positively identified Smith as the suspect who abducted her daughter.
Because of that information, Wilkie said, Officer Tina Henson recognized Smith’s van as it passed by while she was working a nearby car crash.
Wilkie participated in detaining the suspect, and he was one of the first authorities to come in physical contact. He realized what happened to Cherish as soon as he touched Smith’s pants, and determined those were wet.
“Immediately, I said, ‘Oh my God, she’s in the water,’” he told Dash. Wilkie began to doubt that they’d find Cherish alive.
The vehicle description also helped investigators locate the body. According to Wilkie, two citizens recognized Smith’s van as being behind the Thomas Baptist Church, and they called it in. Authorities went to the area, and discovered a nearby creek. That’s where they found Cherish: in the water, as the tide was starting to go out. Wilkie said Smith dragged the body to the area, and tried to hide her body using pieces of brick, cement, and other material.
Wilkie said Cherish resembled his daughter, who was about the same age and owned the same dress.
“All I could do at that point was stand by with her, protect her from anything coming up,” he said, explaining he had to protect the body from wild animals in the water.
[Screengrab via Law&Crime Network]