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Tears, With No Answers

July 18, 2002

One minute little Samantha Runnion is playing a board game with a fellow 5-year-old near her Orange County condominium. The next a lone man snatches her into his car. The following sunny summer afternoon Samantha is found dead. And a stunned nation stares, appalled.

Child abductions by nonrelatives are rare. But they're still every parent's nightmare. Who hasn't warned his or her child of strangers, told the child to run or scream? What shopper hasn't, for one heart-stopping moment, turned to find the child not in sight, before quickly discovering him or her hiding in a clothes rack or pulling magazines off a nearby shelf? And then, out of desperate fear and relief, delivered a stern scolding?

Samantha's mother, Erin, seems to have done everything possible to protect her daughter. She described practicing an abduction with Samantha screaming for help. Samantha was smart, like the Peter Pan on her bedroom wall. She did scream as she was carried away to an unthinkable Never-Never Land. She kicked too. But she didn't have the strength of the heroic Hercules, who also adorned her wall.

The Runnions had moved to a safer, partly enclosed neighborhood. Erin Runnion is a working mom, so Grandma was caring for Samantha by day. What "if onlys" will run through those two mothers' anguished minds for years to come about what they might have, should have, could have done. In all of their anguish, they must remember that it's the killer who deserves blame.

Police suggest that Samantha's abductor will strike again, probably at another little person. Presumably others like him wander this land. Cannot this nation able to detect a warm engine from space or an invisible planet from Earth devise some way to profile such a predator before a child's life is lost? Did a relative, friend or neighbor see the culprit's disturbing proclivities?

And how close can we hold, protect, even clutch our most precious possessions and still grant them the joys of childhood? To play. To pretend. To fly high on swings. To watch silently as chocolate ice cream dissolves over clothing and car seat. To explore. In short, to grow up in wondrous ways before our admiring, amazed eyes.

Samantha was a curly-haired little girl who was going to get a 3-D dinosaur puzzle, Legos and new Barbie dresses for her birthday next week. This killer prevented her from resuming her ballet lessons. Now, he's preventing countless other children from playing outside. What are we going to do as individuals and a society to thwart future predators? For now, there is one thing we can do, through law enforcement: Hunt him down. And quickly.

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