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Cherish Perrywinkle murder raises tough questions for Florida

4:05 PM, Jun 26, 2013   |    comments
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The murder of eight-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle in Jacksonville is raising questions about Florida's commitment to trying to prevent such tragedies.

Instead, it seems Florida is often reacting to tragedy.

Police say a man approached Perrywinkle and her mother last week and offered to buy them clothes and food at a Walmart. But the man, a convicted sex offender, was able to slip away with the girl.

Her body was found in the woods the next day.

Linda Alexionok, executive director of The Children's Campaign, said now it looks as if there could have been an opportunity to teach Cherish Perrywinkle some lifesaving lessons.

Alexionok said Florida must do a better job of funding abuse prevention programs.

Ironically, Gov. Rick Scott recently vetoed $3 million for the "Safer, Smarter Families" program, which teaches elementary students how to watch out for certain threats.

"We are at the Children's Campaign very saddened that a child lost their life that we believe could've been prevented with the community and government stepping in and making sure parents and children had access to these kinds of programs," said Alexionok.

The "Safer, Smarter Families" program teaches children how they can be targeted both online and in their communities by sexual predators.

Alexionok believes Florida politicians are too often reactive instead of proactive on child safety issues.

She thinks it's almost too easy for elected leaders to blame funding cuts for programs like "Safer, Smarter Families" on limited budgets and, as a result, prevention programs with proven track records are discarded.

"We as voters need to make sure that a certain amount of those dollars were spent on sure-fire programs and services that we know cost taxpayers less money because they're paying every year and we get good outcomes for our most vulnerable, which are our children."

The Children's Campaign argues prevention programs are more effective and cheaper for taxpayers in the long run than responding later to the toll of crimes.

Alexionok also believes stricter incarceration laws, especially for sex offenders, could help prevent tragedies like the case of Cherish Perrywinkle.

Dave Heller

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