Erin Runnion: 10 Years and Still Fighting

In 2002, a bright and beautiful girl named Samantha Runnion, just 11 days shy of her sixth birthday, was abducted from her Orange County front yard while playing with her best friend.

(Editor's Note: Thanks to reader Joy Robinson, founder of Girls Support Network, for sending in this story.)

I’ll never forget the look of grief on her face.

The day was July 15, 2002, and I was watching the story unfold on the local news.  A bright and beautiful girl named Samantha Runnion, just 11 days shy of her sixth birthday, was abducted in front of her Orange County home while playing with her best friend. 

I glanced over at my 2-year-old daughter playing nearby. My heart sank.

The scene out front of Samantha’s house was chaotic. The media were swarming the front yard, vying for position. Police were everywhere. Then, after a moment, Samantha’s mother emerged from the house, looking pale and distraught, to address the reporters camped out on her lawn. With microphones in her face and bright camera lights in her eyes, Erin Runnion spoke. 

She pleaded with the kidnapper to let Samantha go. She pleaded with the public to help find her daughter. She poured her heart out to the world, displaying tremendous passion and courage, deeply touching the hearts of strangers like me who watched in dismay as she lived out every parent’s worst nightmare on live television.

But unlike the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping that occurred that same summer, Samantha’s story did not have a happy ending. 

Samantha’s body was discovered the very next day. She had been sexually assaulted, murdered and left along Ortega Highway. Days later, her murderer was caught. He was put on trial, convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

Determined to make a positive impact after her horrific loss, Erin founded The Joyful Child Foundation in Memory of Samantha Runnion, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing crimes against children through programs that educate, empower and unite families and communities. 

The Joyful Child’s programs include the a 10-hour interactive life skills and safety education curriculum for children ages 5-12. The Joyful Child sponsors radKIDS instructor certification training and coordinates teams that include law enforcement and parents to provide radKIDS as an after-school or community program. 

In Laguna Niguel, Girls Support Network will be hosting a radKIDS course for girls Aug. 20-24 at .  Visit our website for details:  GirlsSupportNetwork.org

In addition to the radKIDS program, The Joyful Child also has their Adult Education for Child Protection program, which cultivates local ownership for ongoing prevention education in communities nationwide.  The Joyful Child trains Ambassadors to coordinate the implementation of radKIDS in the community, and Joyful Child Educators to give presentations such as “Preventing Child Abduction” and “Recognizing Predatory Behaviors.”

The Joyful Child Foundation also hosts the annual Samantha’s Pride Awards, in which they recognize honorees for their local, regional, and national efforts to protect children against crime.  It is a truly inspiring event not to be missed. 

And so, ten years ago, Erin Runnion found the strength and determination to turn her grief into action, setting out on a mission to empower children and communities everywhere.  And ten years later, she shows no signs of slowing down.

To find out how you can help Erin continue her mission to keep kids safe, please visit The Joyful Child Foundation’s website: www.thejoyfulchild.org


Do you remember when Samantha Runnion was abducted? How did it impact you, or how did it affect our community?

Michele Benjamin July 16, 2012 at 02:23 AM
I too remember this story like it was yesterday. I also had jury duty many many months later and was first called to his courtroom...I was sickened yet again...it haunts me still.
jeff s July 16, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Why do we even put these types on trial? Should be a public castration followed by a live skinning and a salt bath, followed by a slow roast on a spit.
Charles July 16, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Macho, macho man.
Eric Bergstrom July 16, 2012 at 04:41 PM
Is here killer still on death row?
Eric Bergstrom July 16, 2012 at 04:44 PM
While I don't advocate posting details in the same manner as jeff s, I can't understand why those who perpetrate such horrific crimes are allowed to continue to breathe the same air as the rest of us.
Joker Joe July 16, 2012 at 04:50 PM
jeff Totally agree. Just another delay of justice.
Penny Arévalo (Editor) July 16, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Yes. On July 22, 2005, Alejandro Avila was formally sentenced to death. He is incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison on death row.
Marci Sparks July 16, 2012 at 05:24 PM
Such a sad story. What wonderful parents that are willing to work with the community to help prevent such crimes.
Tom Marshall July 16, 2012 at 05:26 PM
I was a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol then. Another good thing to come out of this tragedy was the creation of California's AMBER Alert system. It has become perhaps the most successful state program in history. Hundreds of alerts have been issued since July 31, 2002. Almost every alert has led to the safe return of the victim. Hopefully we'll never have another Samantha case again.
Melissa Pete July 17, 2012 at 07:36 PM
My two girls were babies when this happened. I will never forget hearing this on the news, and I still tear up when I think about this sweet girl and her family. It made me hyper aware of our neighborhood, and I never let my girls be outside on their own. I guess it was good that I was aware, but I was also sad that we can't let our kids play in their own front yards like we did growing up. In regard to the comments about the perpetrator(s), I wonder what the world would be like if we brought back "an eye for an eye"?
Joe Promedio July 18, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Thank you for your service to our community. Thank you to those who are responsible for the Amber Alert System.
Morgan July 19, 2012 at 07:33 PM
This makes me sad. I know it happens a long time ago, but when I was her age, my brothers and I played in our front lawns with our friends all the time. We never needed parent supervision. 5 years later, this little girl is abducted by a freak. It's these sick people in this world that keeps us living in fear.
Silence Dogood July 21, 2012 at 07:56 PM
You live in fear? How sad.
Marc Schroeder July 21, 2012 at 08:16 PM
"God works in strange ways." If there is one and he sits up in the clouds watching this kind of stuff happening while doing nothing to stop it"? He is one sick individual and hardly worthy of worship.
Charles July 21, 2012 at 08:45 PM
I agree. Same for Holocaust, Darfur, Cambodia, Crusades, Northern Ireland, Manchuria, Stalingrad, Hiroshima, Black Death.... "God works in mysterious ways" is a saying these religiously brainwashed people perpetuate.
Shripathi Kamath July 21, 2012 at 10:55 PM
@Bobo First things first, I'll presume your experience in SA to be as a result of a tour of duty, so I'd sincerely thank you for your service. The rest of it gives one pause for thought. You were sent there, presumably to protect our freedoms, and the oath you take is to protect the constitution, both of which entail loving the rights in the constitution. So it is distressing that you would "like to see this happen" that is chop off hands for stealing like in SA, one of the least free countries in the world. The founders saw it fit to call such "cruel and unusual punishment" Amend. 8. That aside, the fact that more than one such chopping takes place indicates that it is not enough of a deterrent. Our system, which lands Madoff in jail rather permanently achieves the same thing. Your take on ObamaCare is also incorrect. Before ObamaCare he'd be off free to get treatment at an ER. Now he'd be required to purchase insurance or be fined or taxed. Chopping Madoff's hands and letting him lose again (which is what they often do in SA) would not prevent him from stealing again, either. Besides, this system of justice you want to bring back is based on SA's interpretation of Islam, their form of Sharia Law. You may earn the ire of those who do not want Sharia Law here in our system of govt. contd...
Shripathi Kamath July 21, 2012 at 11:12 PM
... "God works in strange ways." Indeed, if strange is meant to be identical to non-existent. Now, take me, a middle-aged man with lower back problems, and an arterial system which is on borrowed time. Yes, I am reasonably fit, but if I were to somehow run into a vet like you, I would stand no chance. 5 seconds tops. This is with your hands tied behind your back, and me with all your guns. If you were to release your hounds, my only hope is that stinking yellow trail of urine I leave behind as I run to my car would distract Cujo long enough to escape. Yup, not the kind to fight, which is another reason to thanks vets. You are made to do things by our govt. supposedly for our freedoms. Our fault that we let them, so I apologize for my ineffectiveness But even a weakling like me would have done something against the monster who raped and killed the little girl. Maybe the same five seconds, maybe a loud scream. Something. Heck, what would you have done? I bet that you would have ended it, you know taking your chances with 12 vs being carried by 5 and all? You would have ended it even if it were mine or Obama's daughter and not yours. An omnipotent god who supposedly watches over this and does nothing and you are not alike at all. You'd risk doing what this god supposedly discourages (thou shalt not kill) to save this girl from being deprived of her free will. And risk burning in hell for that 'sin'. Melissa's comments deserve better.
Dan Avery July 21, 2012 at 11:52 PM
jeff the answer to your question is obvious. Putting everyone on trial is the only way the system works fairly. But, hey, if you'd like an unfair system...
Josephine July 22, 2012 at 12:09 AM
I've got a cousin who is the hardest of the hard core Darwinians. He sends me by email the different and creative ways that bugs and insects die from other insects, parasites, etc., wanting to spread their genes. Being aware of this reality is an effective way to break down a belief system based on a universal beneficient creator, or maybe even that of a theist.
Shripathi Kamath July 22, 2012 at 06:16 AM
Someone please check up on Josephine, it was hours ago that I set the silly trap of spelling Constitution as constitution (twice) and ... nothing. Not one homily! I feel guilty that I am not being made to feel guilty.
Josephine July 22, 2012 at 02:25 PM
No need to feel guilty. And I'm not going to spank you every time your a bad boy.
Joker Joe July 22, 2012 at 04:03 PM
The victims family will die before Avila. Talk to our senators.
Marc Schroeder July 22, 2012 at 06:06 PM
"Finally thought. I do not want to bring anything Islam into my country. That is ridiculous. I learned EVERYTHING I want to know about Islam on 9/11/02." LOL, this moron tries to make a statement using 9-11, yet he is so dumb, he does not even know what year it happened. The scary part is... he is allowed to vote, own guns and attack dogs.
Shripathi Kamath July 22, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Hey Bobo, couple things. You say "Your post indicates that you are for the same old, same old form of justice that rotates criminals through the system again and again." No, my post indicates what it actually says. You say: "Finally thought. I do not want to bring anything Islam into my country. That is ridiculous." I agree it is ridiculous because you cannot bring what is already here. I only said that you want to bring one aspect of Sharia Law. Know why? Because you actually said it when you said "When someone steals they get their hand chopped off. I would like to see this happen..." You then say "I learned EVERYTHING I want to know about Islam on 9/11/02." Why, what happened on 9/11/02, Bobo?
Joker Joe July 23, 2012 at 03:11 PM
I live in reality!! Others live in fear.
Joker Joe July 23, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Marc, sweetie!! Sorry if I mistyped the wrong year. Very BIG of you to notice SMALL things, honey!!
Marc Schroeder July 23, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Hey Booboo, I don't want the Nameless one getting jealous and I don't swing that way so if you need to spice things up? Don't waste your time with me.
faith browning November 01, 2012 at 03:06 PM
who was her little friend that was with her when the kiddnapping happend?
R. J. Steelworth November 01, 2012 at 03:17 PM
This is why people need to vote no on 34. Keep the death penalty. Use it.


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