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A ‘person of interest’ in the disappearance of 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham appeared to help in the search, sheriff says – WSVN 7News | Miami News, Weather, Sports

(CNN) — A family friend who is a “person of interest” in the disappearance of 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham joined in the search efforts for the missing Texas girl, the Polk County sheriff told CNN.

Don Steven McDougal was arrested Friday for an unrelated aggravated assault case and has not been charged in connection with Cunningham’s disappearance. But one day earlier, after Audrii vanished on her way to school, McDougal was seen giving the appearance of helping, Sheriff Byron Lyons said.

“Some of the witnesses have even said that he was in the community and knocking on doors … asking have they seen her,” the sheriff told CNN.

“To me, it simply tells me is that he’s trying to give the appearances that he has no play or he’s not at fault in her disappearance and that (he’s) part of the concerned parties who were trying to locate her.”

CNN has attempted to find attorney information for McDougal and has also reached out to his family for comment.

McDougal, a friend of Audrii’s father, lives in a trailer on the family’s property and sometimes took Audrii to the bus stop, the sheriff said.

The family’s home is near Lake Livingston – “one of the largest reservoirs in the state, with 83,000 surface acres,” according to Texas Parks & Wildlife.

Around 7 a.m. Thursday, McDougal and Audrii left the house for the bus stop, authorities said. That was the last time Audrii’s family saw her. She never made it onto the school bus or to school that day.

McDougal hasn’t told investigators whether he dropped Audrii off at the bus stop Thursday morning, the sheriff said. But “I do believe that he is our number one person of interest,” Lyons told CNN.

One of the few clues that has been made public in Audrii’s disappearance might be a red “Hello Kitty” backpack she was supposed to carry to school with her.

A “small backpack that likely belonged to a child was located near the Lake Livingston Dam” on Friday, the sheriff’s office said.

“There was enough in it to lead us to believe strongly that it is Audrii’s backpack,” Lyons told CNN.

But the young girl’s whereabouts remain a mystery. Authorities have launched a criminal investigation and suspect foul play, but have not provided additional details.

The sheriff said he hopes cell phone and video analyses will help further the investigation.

“I’m not giving up the hope,” Lyons told CNN. “I think that she can still be alive.”

Polk County Crime Stoppers has announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of whoever is responsible for Audrii’s disappearance.

Audrii is White with blond hair and blue eyes. She stands about 4 feet, 1 inch tall and weighs about 75 pounds, the sheriff’s office said. The girl was last seen wearing black pants, a black hoodie with white lettering and black high-top tennis shoes.

Authorities ask anyone with information to call the Polk County Sheriff’s Office at 936-327-6810 or submit an anonymous tip online.

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