by: Amanda Warford Updated:
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - One year after Rayne Perrywinkle's 8-year-old daughter, Cherish, was abducted from a northside Walmart and murdered, she is speaking openly for the first time about her fight to regain custody of her two other children.
"How many times does somebody have to get slapped in the face before they open their mouth? So I'm opening my mouth. Everyone wants to make their own assumptions about who they think I am, and they don't know who I am at all."
Rayne Perrywinkle invited Action News to meet her on the Westside, steps away from the home where she's trying to start over, and where she wants her other children to soon live with her. Destiny, now 6, and Naveah, now 5, were placed in foster care 11 months ago, and a heated custody battle between Perrywinkle, her extended family and former friends is now underway.
Coverage of the custody battle, she said, has been misleading.
"My children are being exploited on the Internet and that's not right. I've never given my permission for my children to be on the Internet and it's disgusting. I hate it."
Perrywinkle said she sees her daughters for two hours every Monday, and believes the foster home where the Florida Department of Children and Families and Family Support Services has placed them is protecting the girls, but she wants to bring them home.
"Right now they are, but eventually I want my children home. They belong with me. They should never have been taken in the first place."
Perrywinkle said that in the days following Cherish's death, she and the children stayed with a former counselor and friend to avoid the frenzy of visitors at their home. When Perrywinkle decided to return home, she said her friend advised her to leave the children.
Days later, she said, she learned that the children had been taken into DCF custody. Perrywinkle was soon ordered by the court to fulfill certain requirements before her children could be returned. She said she is following that order now.
When asked if she is able to now provide a safe home, she answered, "I'm working on it."
She's also working to forget Donald Smith, who's accused of taking Cherish's life. Perrywinkle said she is uncomfortable talking about Smith, and would not reveal details about the night she met him, at the advisement of the State Attorney's Office, but did say she has to find ways to stay busy to avoid thinking about him.
"It's hard not to. It's very hard not to because he destroyed my family. And now I've got other people that are destroying my family too and that's going to come back to them. I believe in karma."
Perrywinkle said she hopes Donald Smith's trial is short, but she expects it to last for many days. She plans to be at his appearance in court Wednesday.
"He won't look at me. He never does. But he knows I'm there. Actually, I'm not even sure if I want him to make eye contact now. If he does, I might say something, and I want to save those comments for the trial."
While Perrywinkle is coping with criticism, she said she often feels support from strangers.
"I was at the store earlier and a woman came up and hugged me. That meant a lot. Other people don't know what to think. They stare at me. I bleed just like anyone else and I have tears just like anyone else."
But she said that comfort will never undo the hurt over losing her daughter.
"I'll never be in a better place. I just take one day at a time and that's all I can do. This is not something I want to wish on anyone. Not even my worst enemy."
All she can do now, she says, is take each day as it comes.
"I'm doing all the steps that I can to bring them home and it's not going to be overnight but I have great confidence that I'm going to bring them home."