‘She was perfection’: Livingston community holds vigil to remember Audrii Cunningham

LIVINGSTON – The Livingston community is grieving the loss of Audrii Cunningham, an 11-year-old child who went missing and was found dead after a five day search.

Don Steven McDougal, 42, was charged with capital murder in connection to Audrii’s disappearance and death. He was a friend of the family.

Wednesday night, Audrii’s family, friends and even strangers in the community came together for a prayer vigil to honor the little girl, who was loved by so many people.

“I am beyond blessed to be able to give birth to something that is, she was perfection,” her mother Cassie Matthews said at the vigil.

Matthews barely held back tears as she invited the community to light their candles in Audrii’s honor.

“Hopefully, with all of our candles together, it’ll be bright enough you know, maybe she could see it,” Matthews said.

Among purple balloons, candles flickered as those in attendance hugged, still shocked and saddened by the young girl’s sudden murder.

“Any time you lose a child it’s catastrophic, but to lose one the way that we lost her was even more... I don’t have the words to describe, other than we had a brush with evil,” Livingston ISD Superintendent Dr. Bret Hawkins told KPRC 2 reporter Re’Chelle Turner.

Hawkins, who also attended the vigil, said Wednesday was a tough day for the district, one day after searchers confirmed they’d found Audrii’s body in the Trinity River near Livingston. He said Audrii has been a student with Livingston ISD since kindergarten, and her teachers and classmates are heartbroken.

At Audrii’s elementary school Wednesday, Dr. Hawkins said everyone was impacted by her loss. He says some students wrote signs reading, ‘I miss you’ and others wrote in journals. He said Audrii always came to school and loved her teachers. On the last day Audrii was in school, she participated in school resource officer appreciation day and completed a project about her favorite officer.

“One officer always gives high fives to students as they are getting out of their parents cars, or they come into the school. And so they made him a high-five poster, and you look up there and you see her name up there with all of her 5th grade classmates. It was very heartbreaking to see that it was one of her last pieces of work in her school,” he said.

Dear Lion Country, It is with tremendous sadness that I inform you of the death of our LISD 5th-grader, Audrii...

Posted by Livingston Independent School District on Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The days long search for Audrii involved volunteers, local, state, and federal law enforcement. It left the community on edge and the outcome left a void felt by everyone.

“I had to sit down and explain to my 6-year-old and my 10-year-old that she’s no longer with us. And I had to explain, you know, she’s in heaven,” Kasey Evans, a family friend said at the vigil. “How do you tell them that they’re not going to see their friend no more?”

Family friends said nothing will bring Audrii back, but they hope to get justice for her.

Earlier in the day, near the location where divers found the girl, people dropped off purple flowers, balloons and teddy bears. Purple was Audrii’s favorite color.

“She’s 11-years old, and she was innocent in all of this. For me, I know for a lot of us we have children in our families and today it just feels like you can’t turn your back for one second not for one second,” one woman said.

Audrii had big dreams and made a big impact on so many people.

“A whole lot of it is just her charisma and smile. She truly has been adopted by the whole community. Our community has definitely rallied around her and her cause,” Hawkins said.

The district said they are setting up a scholarship fund for Audrii Cunningham.

The search for missing 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham, the Livingston girl at center of an AMBER Alert, has turned into in active crime scene Tuesday, according to DPS. (Copyright 2024 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

About the Authors

Emmy award-winning journalist born and raised in Alabama. College football fanatic and snow cone lover! Passionate about connecting with the community to find stories that matter.

Bryce Newberry joined KPRC 2 in July 2022. He loves the thrill of breaking news and digging deep on a story that gets people talking.