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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 in her Orange County front yard while playing with her best friend.

(Editor's Note: Thanks to reader and resident Joy Robinson, founder, 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 from out in front 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. 

Here 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

Veronica Nadan July 15, 2012 at 08:18 PM
I'll never forget the day Samantha was kidnapped either. It was a sad reminder that our children aren't safe even playing in their own front yard. It's important to equip our children with the skills to better protect themselves from these sick predators. My 12 year old daughter will be signing up for radKIDS self-defense course!
Jodi Barber July 16, 2012 at 02:28 AM
I remember that day, like it was yesterday! I still feel the pain in my heart for Erin and one of the most beautiful little girl I have ever seen! My heart and prayers go out to Erin. She has is one amazing woman and I admire her strength she had at the very beginning and continues to have. Erin is helping so many families! God bless her!!

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