People stare. They cover their mouths with their hands and whisper.


Shopping carts quickly turn, clattering away in the opposite direction.

Rayne Perrywinkle has caught more than one person with a smartphone aimed at her, snapping photos of her.

“At first I was mortified, but I have become numb to a lot of it because it’s never going to go away,” she said.

During her first extensive interview in nearly a year, the slight-framed Perrywinkle appeared tired. She said she feels the public blames her for the death of her 8-year-old daughter Cherish last year. She said she feels her life became a spectacle one year ago and nothing is private anymore.

The state took away her two remaining children — 5-year-old Nevaeh and 6-year-old Destiny — after Cherish was abducted from a Northside Wal-Mart, raped and killed.

Dependency cases usually attract little interest, but her children’s case hits the airwaves and newsstands with every new development.

Perrywinkle will be in court again Wednesday, attempting to regain custody of Nevaeh and Destiny. She said it’s been a long, tough road.

Although she believes many people paint her as a pariah, she knows not everyone blames her. Sometimes, she said, she is
surprised by a stranger’s hug and seldom-heard kind words.

At the Publix in the Gateway Shopping Center, Perrywinkle recalled a woman carrying groceries. The woman put her bags down and wrapped her arms around Perrywinkle, She told Perrywinkle she knew she was Cherish’s mom.

“I was just so touched by that,” she said. “How some people can be so awesome.”

On the Internet, it’s a different story. She finds few supporters there. The veil of anonymity frees her critics, spewing their criticism and personal attacks across onto the electronic billboards of cyberspace.

Some people urge the state to sever her parental rights and put the girls up for adoption. Others urge authorities to jail Perrywinkle on child neglect charges for getting into a van with Donald Smith, a sex offender who reportedly met her at a Northside dollar store last June, befriended her and promised to buy new clothes for her daughters at a nearby Wal-Mart.

Smith is accused of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing Cherish on June 21 or early June 22, 2013. He is currently in the Duval County jail awaiting trial.

Perrywinkle said she can’t talk about things she believes have been twisted by inaccurate reporting because prosecutors told her anything she says about that night Cherish died could hurt the first-degree murder case against Smith.

“There has been so many people trying to decipher what happened that night. They have their ideas and then there’s what the truth is,” she said. “They [the media] got it wrong in the first place and it [public perception] has spiraled out of control.”

Perrywinkle said she wasn’t a bad mother. She didn’t give Cherish to Smith. She isn’t on drugs, a frequent rumor.

As part of her current fight for her children, she’s been drug tested nearly 10 times by both the state Department of Children and Families and the court.

“All my drug tests have come back negative,” she said. “… I don’t do drugs. I don’t sell them. I don’t have them around.”


People scorch Perrywinkle in comment sections in online news articles, blog posts, Internet message boards and Facebook groups.

One group — which Perrywinkle calls a “hate group” — advocates adoption for her children. What hurts was the group was started by a former friend. Perrywinkle says she feels betrayed.

The Facebook group “Team Destiny and Nevaeh” was created by Amy Decker, a woman Perrywinkle said she met through a contact at the Hubbard House, a safe house for abused women, in 2002. She said Decker was her counselor at a difficult time in her life.

Decker said she wasn’t a counselor, but a mentor and friend. She said moderators of the Facebook page have deleted comments attacking Perrywinkle or accusing her of causing her Cherish’s death.

Decker is blunt.

“She’s not responsible for Cherish’s death, but she is responsible for not protecting her children,” Decker said.

She said the web page isn’t against Perrywinkle, but it does advocate for what’s best for the children who are stuck in a system that is not serving them well.

Perrywinkle said during her past talks with Decker, they had became friends.

“I trusted her. We hung out and I actually liked her,” Perrywinkle said. “I felt comfortable around Amy.”

The Deckers also provided the first home that temporarily cared for Destiny and Nevaeh after Cherish’s death.

Perrywinkle said Decker kidnapped her children after inserting herself back into her life after last summer’s tragedy.

“There was no plan to take her children. She needed help and I helped her,” Decker said. “I never called DCF [Florida’s Department of Children and Families], DCF called me.”

Perrywinkle said she allowed her children to stay with the Deckers shortly after the abduction as she grieved but couldn’t stay there herself because she needed to grieve alone.

She rejoined her children after a day, but only stayed a few more because Decker scolded her when she showed anguish over losing her daughter.


Cherish’s funeral is difficult for Perrywinkle to discuss.

“What parent wants to see their child in a box waiting for them,” Perrywinkle said. “ … When I was walking on my way to see Cherish, I fell a few times. I was sobbing on the floor and I didn’t want to stand up.”

“I needed to be carried,” she said. “… I felt totally alone.”

Shortly after the funeral, Perrywinkle’s children were taken away from her by DCF. Perrywinkle said she has nothing bad to say about the department.

“I want DCF to know that I am very thankful that they are on my side and that they want to reunite my children with me,” she said. “I am working on everything the court ordered.”

The court ordered Perrywinkle to provide a permanent home for her children, remain drug free and provide a safe haven for her girls.

Until Perrywinkle proves to the court she is a fit mother, she is allowed weekly two-hour visits with her children.

When they get together, she said, they play outside or draw pictures. Sometimes they mold Play-Doh.

“I hope it changes soon, I want them home. Adjusting to this new life is incredibility difficult,” Perrywinkle said.

When she leaves her children after her visits, she tells them to count each day and she will be there on number seven.

Perrywinkle counts, too.

“I’ll say now I got five days, now I got four, now I got three until I see them again,” she said.


Derek Gilliam: (904) 359-4619