11-year-old Audrii Cunningham's body found in Trinity River, Polk Co. Sheriff says

Capital murder charges are expected against suspect Don Steven McDougal in connection with Audrii's disappearance.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024
Livingston community mourns after 11-year-old's body found
Livingston neighbors are forced to confront the worst fear concerning the disappearance of 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham.

LIVINGSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Search crews found the body of 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham, and authorities expected to charge a suspect, who lived just behind her home, in connection with her disappearance.

On Tuesday, authorities announced a search area for Audrii was declared a crime scene. Shortly after, officials confirmed they had located her body.

According to Texas Department of Public Safety Lt. Craig Cummings, the crime scene included an area around US-59 and the Trinity River Bridge.

During an afternoon press conference, officials said they had the Trinity River Authority lower water levels to find the girl's body.

"My heart aches with the news, and I express my deepest sympathies and condolences," said Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons as he announced the tragic discovery.

Lyons did not disclose the condition of Audrii's body, which the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences received for an autopsy.

On Tuesday night, the community held a private prayer vigil at the Livingston VFW Post.

"She was really important to the community of Livingston," Elizabeth Kobes said afterward. "It's just heartbreaking."

Audrii had been missing since Thursday, Feb. 15, when, according to authorities, she did not make it to her school bus that morning.

Don Steven McDougal, first named as a primary person of interest in the case, is now a suspect, and the district attorney expects capital murder charges to be filed against him.

Polk County District Attorney Shelley Sitton said they are preparing the appropriate arrest warrants for McDougal and that he faces a capital murder charge.

McDougal was said to be a friend of Audrii's father, allowed to live in a trailer behind their Livingston house.

According to Lyons, McDougal admitted to leaving the house with Audrii the morning she disappeared but would not tell investigators what happened next.

WATCH: Polk County sheriff announces news of Audrii Cunningham's death

A capital murder charge is in the works for Don Steven McDougal in connection with 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham's death, DA says.

"We believe there is enough evidence," Lyons said during Tuesday's press conference.

Newly obtained criminal records show McDougal was indicted on attempted indecency with a child nearly 17 years ago in Brazoria County, which, according to legal analyst Anthony Osso Jr., would have required him to register as a sex offender. However, McDougal pleaded down to child enticement in 2008. The charge does not require sex offender registration.

According to records, on March 31, 2007, McDougal "attempted to remove (a child's) pants after getting in bed with her."

Additionally, according to online records, McDougal has a criminal history that goes back two decades and includes more than a dozen arrests.

ABC13 also learned on Tuesday that McDougal was seen at a mechanic shop near Highway 59 in Livingston the day Audrii went missing. Workers at the shop told Eyewitness News off camera that McDougal was there trying to get a part for his blue Chevy Suburban, adding that he was filthy, covered in dirt, and acting suspicious.

Following Audrii's disappearance, Lyons said McDougal agreed to take investigators to several locations, including the Livingston Dam, where investigators discovered what they believe to be the girl's backpack.

Authorities were being very cautious with the information McDougal gave them, Lyons said, stressing that McDougal has not confessed to anything concerning Audrii's disappearance.

McDougal is currently in the Polk County Jail on an unrelated aggravated assault charge. He was taken into custody around 11 p.m. on Friday. Video obtained by ABC13 shows him talking to officers outside a shopping plaza before that arrest.

Investigators also asked the public on Monday to share a video of FM 3126 on Thursday, Feb. 15, between 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Investigators believe McDougal left the house with Audrii at 6:30 a.m. and were specifically interested in a video of his 2003 blue Chevrolet Suburban.

On Monday, authorities increased the reward amount for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case from $7,000 to $10,000.

"We will continue to process the evidence that has been gathered to ensure the justice for Audrii," Lyons said.

RELATED: Authorities continue search for missing 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham

Don McDougal, a person of interest, was arrested on an unrelated charge as the search continues for 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham in Lake Livingston.

RELATED: 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham's mom says missing girl's backpack may have been found in search area

Investigators paused their search for 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham Friday evening near the Lake Livingston Dam in San Jacinto County.