Body of Audrii Cunningham found, 11-year-old went missing last week

Posted at 5:29 PM, February 20, 2024

Divers have recovered the body of 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham from a Texas river days after the girl went missing, and authorities are preparing to file a murder charge against a friend of her father who lived on her family’s property, a sheriff said Tuesday afternoon.

Two side by side photos of Audrii Cunningham

The body of Audrii Cunningham, seen here in undated photos, was found by divers on Feb. 20. (Polk County, TX Sheriff’s Office)

Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons said Audrii’s body was found by divers during a search in the Trinity River in a rural area north of Houston. Her body was found about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from her home on near Lake Livingston.

“My heart aches with this news,” Lyons said.

Audrii’s family had reported her missing on Thursday after she failed to return after school to her home in Livingston. After she was reported missing, investigators discovered that she never got on the bus to go to school that morning.

Polk County District Attorney Shelly Sitton said officials were preparing an arrest warrant for Don Steven McDougal, 42, on a recommended charge of capital murder. She said they do not yet know if they would seek the death penalty in the case.

Booking photo of Don Steven McDougal

Don Steven McDougal was named a person of interest in the disappearance of Audrii Cunningham. (Polk County, TX Sheriff’s Office)

Authorities have said McDougal is a friend of the girl’s father and lived in a camper on the family’s property near Lake Livingston.

She said McDougal remained in jail on Tuesday on an unrelated assault charge. Jail records did not list an attorney for McDougal.

The sheriff said that the girl’s body has been taken to the medical examiner’s office to determine the cause of death.

Texas Dept of Public Safety spokesman Craig Cummings said the girl lived with her father, grandparents and other family members. A backpack that authorities believe belonged to the child was found Friday near the dam on Lake Livingston, one of the state’s largest lakes.