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Published on February 23, 2024
Death Penalty Looms for Suspect in Texas Girl's Murder as Livingston Weeps for Lost Youth Source: Google Street View

The Texas community of Livingston remains in mourning as new details emerge regarding the tragic death of 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham. According to the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office, the young girl's life was violently cut short due to "homicidal violence including blunt head trauma". Her body was discovered in the turbulent waters of the Trinity River, placing a distressing end to a six-day search that racked the small town.

Charges of capital murder have been filed against Don Steven McDougal, a 42-year-old man who lived behind the Cunninghams in a camper. Previously brushing shoulders with law enforcement on unrelated assault charges, McDougal was denied bond and is currently held in the Polk County Jail. As reported by Fox26 Houston, McDougal, with a criminal past tarnishing records since 2001, may now face the death penalty for this most grievous offense.

An Amber Alert was activated when Audrii did not board her school bus on a seemingly ordinary Thursday morning, but the routine day turned anything but as panic settled on the hearts of the family and extended community. On Friday, McDougal was arrested on an unrelated assault charge, said authorities, who had pegged him as a person of interest from the outset. Following the discovery of Cunningham's remains under US-59 on Tuesday, the investigation intensified.

Prior to finding Cunningham, McDougal was known to law enforcement's radar due to cellphone data that placed him near the crime scenes, his erratic moving vehicles captured by surveillance videos, and the grim discovery of the girl's wet backpack near Lake Livingston. Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons disclosed that McDougal "was likely the last person to see Audrii alive," according to KHOU. In a chilling reveal, the man admitted to leaving the house with her on the morning she vanished, though whether she made it to the bus stop was never confirmed by McDougal. Audrii's family, reeling from the unimaginable loss, prepares to honor the memory of the light snuffed out too soon. Meanwhile, investigators are still piecing together the grim puzzle of this case.