HomeTop HeadlinesBody of Missing 11-Year-Old Found in River

Body of Missing 11-Year-Old Found in River

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An 11-year-old girl who went missing on Thursday, February 15, 2024, has been found.

Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons announced Tuesday, February 20, that the search for Audrii Cunningham, 11, ended when divers located her body, with a large rock tied to it, in the Trinity River, about 10 miles from her home in Livingston, Texas. This discovery brought a close to the intense search initiated after Cunningham did not return from school.

On the morning of her disappearance, Cunningham was observed near her Polk County home, identifiable by her black hoodie and red backpack, but she failed to board her school bus or attend classes that day. This unusual absence prompted an immediate response from local law enforcement and the community.

The focus of the investigation shifted toward Don Steven McDougal, a 42-year-old Livingston resident and a friend of Cunningham’s father, who lived on the family’s property. On the morning she went missing, she had gotten into McDougal’s car to be driven to the bus stop. But she never got on the bus.

McDougal, already in jail for an unrelated felony charge at the time of the announcement of the youngster’s death, is facing preparation of arrest warrants for capital murder in connection with Cunningham’s death, as confirmed by Polk County District Attorney Shelly Sitton. Despite the pending legal actions, the cause of Cunningham’s death remains under investigation by a medical examiner. 

Efforts to locate Cunningham’s body were significantly aided by technology and community cooperation. Sheriff Lyons credited the recovery to analyzing cell phone data, videos, and information obtained from McDougal. Additionally, the Trinity River Authority played a crucial role by reducing the water flow from a nearby reservoir, enabling divers to search more effectively under Highway 59, where her body was eventually found.

This case has deeply impacted the Livingston community and Cunningham’s family, who are grappling with the loss of their young member. 

Audrii lived with her father, grandparents, and other family members on a property where McDougal also resided in a camper. The sheriff noted McDougal’s previous interactions with the child, including occasions where he took her to the bus stop or to school if she missed the bus

A backpack believed to belong to Cunningham was found near a dam on Lake Livingston on Friday. As the investigation progresses, authorities vow to continue examining the evidence collected to ensure justice for Audrii Cunningham.

McDougal’s legal history includes a no-contest plea to two felony counts of enticing a child in 2007, which resulted in a two-year prison sentence. This background, coupled with the circumstances of Cunningham’s disappearance and subsequent death, forms the basis of an ongoing inquiry by state and local authorities.

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