by: Amanda Warford Updated:
Billy Jarreau woke up early the morning of June 22, 2013, because his 8-year-old daughter, Cherish Perrywinkle, was flying in to see him for the summer later that morning.
“It was about 4:30 a.m. and I went to check my voice mail, and there was a message from the sheriff’s office,” he told Action News in his first interview since Cherish was murdered.
When Jarreau returned the call, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office detectives told him that Cherish’s mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, claimed the little girl had been kidnapped from a Northside Jacksonville Walmart hours earlier. It was story that, at first, Jarreau doubted.
“She was not supportive of Cherish coming to visit, so I thought maybe she was trying to keep her from coming, some scenario, you think of all kinds of things, not thinking this was real,” Jarreau said.
From his home in California, Jarreau said he and his wife began monitoring coverage of the search for Cherish online.
“My wife was on the computer, and she came crying, running outside and she said Cherish was gone. That’s how I found out, through a computer,” he said.
Jarreau said his relationship with Cherish’s mother was brief but complicated. It began in 2003, when he said the two met while Perrywinkle was working at a strip club in Jacksonville.
“I was in the Navy and was recently divorced. I would go there a couple of nights a week and drink and that’s how we met. It was basically a one-night deal. It was 2 a.m., we took off, and ended up together,” he said.
Jarreau said Perrywinkle informed him that she was expecting, but when Jarreau requested a paternity test, necessary to add Cherish to his military benefits plan, he said Perrywinkle refused.
“I was willing to pay child support at any time, but I had to have proof, and she basically told me that I should know it’s my child.”
Jarreau said that a court ordered a paternity test three years later, when Perrywinkle applied for government assistance. He said he complied and began supporting Cherish financially. The court granted him more and more time with Cherish over the next few years, he said, and twice he said, he fought for full custody.
“Obviously, you never want to displace a child from their mother but my biggest fight was, OK, I understand the mother's situation, but what’s in the best interest of the child? Is she safe in that home? There were instances along the way that made me feel that she was not capable of being a mother," he said.
“We basically just don’t get along. We have different viewpoints in life. She has her way of living, and I have mine, and with her getting primary custody I didn’t get a lot of say-so in a lot of things, and that caused a lot of problems.”
In 2010, Jarreau said the military transferred his new wife to a base in San Diego. He said Perrywinkle fought sending Cherish to visit him each summer. That’s one reason he doubted the story police him that night.
“I honestly think there’s more to that story. I don’t blame Rayne, but I blame the decisions (sic). When you look at what happened that night, it doesn’t make sense, but I don’t believe it was a coincidence that just happened. It’s not believable.”
Jarreau also does not blame the JSO for delays in the search that resulted in the reprimand of two high-ranking officers following an investigation by the sheriff.
“He said every opportunity should have been taken to find her. That I do believe, and I believe they failed that part, but you make decisions on things that happen in that moment and, you know, who’s to say if it would have saved her.”
One year later, Jarreau said only Donald Smith, Cherish’s accused killer, knows why this tragedy happened. Still, he said, he has nothing to say to Smith.
“Any breath that we waste on him is a waste. I get so angry when I see things about him, I try to avoid him. I avoid pictures of him. I just don’t bother.”
Jarreau said he does look at pictures of Cherish every day, and remembers a life that ended too soon.
“Looking at the situation she went through, knowing the life she had, it’s hard to believe a kid could be happy, but you’d never see her unhappy. She always had a smile on her face, she was the happiest kid. I’m just going to remember her as my child and you know, work day by day.”