Police find body of missing 11-year-old Texas girl as authorities prepare to charge family friend

Audrii Cunningham (Facebook)
Audrii Cunningham (Facebook)

The body of an 11-year-old girl has been found in a river near her home in rural Texas - as authorities prepare to charge a friend of her father’s who lived on the family property.

Audrii Cunningham was discovered dead on Tuesday during a search in the Trinity River, in a rural area north of Houston, five days after her disappearance.

Authorities have now confirmed they are preparing an arrest warrant for family friend Don Steven McDougal, 42, on a recommended charge of capital murder.

Audrii, from near Lake Livingston, was reported missing by her family on Thursday after she failed to return home from school.

Police later discovered she had never got on the bus to go to school that morning.

Don Steven McDougal is seen in a photo from his Instagram page.
Don Steven McDougal is seen in a photo from his Instagram page.

Her disappearance sparked a massive police search, which ended in tragedy on Tuesday when her body was found around 10 miles (16km) from her home.

Authorities revealed suspect McDougal - who was in jail on Wednesday on an unrelated charge - is a friend of Audrii’s father.

He lived in a campervan on the family's property, where the young girl lived with her father, grandparents and other family members.

Audrii Cunningham (Facebook)
Audrii Cunningham (Facebook)

Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons said that in the past, McDougal had taken Audrii to the bus stop or would take her to school if she missed the bus.

Mr Lyons said there is "substantial evidence" in the case, and that mobile phone data and videos helped identify places to search.

A backpack that authorities believe belonged to Audrii was found on Friday near the dam on Lake Livingston, one of the state's largest lakes.

The local river authority lowered water levels in the area, which led to the discovery of her body.

"My heart aches with this news," Mr Lyons said following the discover of Audrii’s body.

Audrii’s mother, Cassie Matthews, last week described feeling “broken” and “mad” following her daughter’s disappearance.

She told media outlet KPRC: “She has so many opportunities ahead of her, and she deserves every right to be able to reach those opportunities.

The river where the girl was found (AP)
The river where the girl was found (AP)

“She has so many people that love her and adore her.

“I am not going to be the same unless my baby is returned to me and neither is her family, any of us, any of her friends, any of the people that she has been connected to in the community.”

Authorities named McDougal as a person of interest as they investigated the girl’s disappearance last week.

He was arrested Friday on an unrelated assault charge. He remained in jail on that charge on Wednesday.

The sheriff said the girl's body had been taken to the Harris County medical examiner's office in Houston to determine the cause of death.