Florida girl Cherish Perrywinkle, allegedly killed by sex offender Donald Smith, is mourned

12:02 PM, Jun 24, 2013   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Florida (WTLV) -- Nine-year-old Jessica Harris said she lost her best friend this weekend. 

Harris is one of several students who will be missing Cherish Perrywinkle at Chaffee Trail Elementary when school begins.

Billie Jo Harris, Jessica's mother, has struggled to find the words to console her daughter. Jessica said she will miss everything about Cherish, especially her smile. 

SEE ALSO: Look up sex offenders in your area

The two girls were second grade students at Chaffee Trail Elementary this year. They weren't in the same class, but on the first day of school Jessica said she made a great friend while waiting for her bus.

"We would run around chasing each other," said Jessica.

But this weekend, Jessica saw her friend's picture on the T.V. That's when her mother broke the news and told her that her friend was gone. 

MORE: No bail for sex offender charged in girl's death

Billie Jo said as a parent she did not want give Jessica all the details, but told her that Cherish had left a Walmart with a stranger and the stranger may have killed her. 

It was tough news for anyone to hear, especially a 9-year-old.

"Basically that's what she's been doing, just crying," said Billie Jo.

The tragedy has opened the conversation about 'stranger danger' for every parent and their child in the community, but even though Harris said she has talked with her three children about the risks of strangers, she knows she can't hold them any tighter.

"I feel like I want to, but I know that I can't. I know that I have to let them know what's going on in the world and I have to set their boundaries, but I can't shield them from everything," said Harris.

Cherish Perrywinkle's death has caused community members from all over to leave their own messages for her at a make-shift memorial at Highlands Baptist Church, the very same place her body was discovered.

"I'd tell [Cherish] that I really love her and I miss her," said Jessica.

Jessica chose to leave a little piece of herself for Cherish at the memorial. 

She left a stuffed cheetah that she holds very dear to her heart. 

A spokesperson for the Duval County Public School System said there will be grief counseling at Chaffee Trail Elementary tomorrow for the staff and students attending summer school.

For parents who would like tips on how to talk to children about stranger danger, click here. 

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