Audrii Cunningham’s cause of death involved blunt force head trauma, records show

Audrii Cunningham, the Texas 11-year-old who investigators say was killed by a family friend, died from “homicidal violence including blunt head trauma,” according to the Harris County medical examiner’s office records.

The primary cause of death determination provides further insight into what happened to Audrii, who vanished while on her way to school, launching a massive five-day search for the fifth grader that ended when her remains were found in a river near her home in rural Livingston, Texas, authorities said.

A friend of Audrii’s father who lived on the family property, Don Steven McDougal, was charged Wednesday with capital murder in her death.

Investigators say McDougal had agreed to take Audrii to her school bus stop last Thursday, but she never made it onto the bus, and a bag resembling her bright red, Hello Kitty backpack was later found near a local dam, according to Polk County officials.

When Audrii’s remains were found Tuesday in the Trinity River, a large rock was tied around her body using a rope that “was consistent with rope that was observed in McDougal’s vehicle on a traffic stop two days prior,” a criminal complaint states.

The river was one of several places McDougal had told investigators he had gone around the time Audrii vanished, Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons said. Investigators also have evidence that McDougal “lied about his whereabouts and activities on the day of February 15, 2024,” according to the complaint.

CNN has been unable to identify an attorney for McDougal.

In a vigil for Audrii Wednesday night, loved ones mourned the loss of a friendly girl whose irresistible smile could always lift a mood.

“No matter where she went or who she met, she just made them light up,” said her aunt, Brenda Cedars. “She could always make you laugh, no matter what kind of mood you were in. It just isn’t fair that we all got robbed of that.”

Audrii’s mother, Cassie Matthews, said she has struggled to find words to describe the loss of her daughter, who she thought was “perfection.”

“I’m truly blessed to have given birth to such an amazing little girl,” the mother said.

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