Search continues after 11-year-old girl disappears from Texas school bus stop

Audrii Cunningham is seen in this undated photo released by Texas Police following her disappearance. -- Polk County Sheriff's Office via Facebook

(LIVINGSTON, Texas) -- Authorities are searching for an 11-year-old Texas girl who vanished Thursday and police say a person of interest in the case has been taken into custody.

Audrii Cunningham was last seen on the morning of Feb. 15 near her father's home in Livingston, Texas, at about 7 a.m., the time neighbors say they usually see the girl walking to her school bus stop, according to authorities. But Audrii didn't board the school bus.

"She did not make it to school. That was the reason why the father, the family, became very concerned when she did not get off the bus," Lt. Craig Cummings, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said. "We are looking at this as a criminal investigation."

A statewide Amber Alert was issued on Feb. 15.

Officials said they are looking into a person of interest, Don Steven McDougal, a friend of Audrii's father who lives in a camper behind the house where Audrii lives.

Investigators said they believe McDougal was the last person to see Audrii.

McDougal was arrested on an unrelated aggravated assault charge Friday and is in custody, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. He has an extensive criminal history, including enticing a minor in 2008.

Investigators have given McDougal opportunities to cooperate and are hopeful he will help with the case, Cummings said on Monday.

Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons said McDougal is the "main person of interest," but added that authorities are not ruling anyone out.

Investigators are also searching for McDougal's 2003 blue Chevy Suburban.

"Anyone that saw that vehicle on Thursday or Friday, we're asking that you call the Polk County Sheriff's Office," Cummings said.

Multiple law enforcement agencies and volunteers have teamed up to search for Audrii in the Livingston area and have since located her backpack near Lake Livingston Dam.

"There were other items that were found," Cummings said. "But we're not getting into what those items were. That's all part of the investigative effort."

Audrii's mother, Cassie Matthews, is desperate to bring her daughter home.

"There's not words for it," Matthews told Houston ABC station KTRK. "You're broken, you're mad, you're lost, you're empty. And right now, I'm empty."

Lyons said he is "hoping and praying" that Audrii is still alive.

Audrii is described as being 4-foot-1 with blond hair, blue eyes and weighing about 75 pounds. She was last seen wearing a black hoodie with white lettering, a camouflage backpack, black pants and black high-top tennis shoes.

A reward has increased to $10,000. Anyone with any information is urged to call the Polk County Sheriff's Office at 936-327-6810.


Monday, February 19, 2024 at 5:35PM by GMA Team, ABC News Permalink