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Mother of Slain Girl Honors Volunteers

Erin Runnion, mother of 5-year-old Samantha, murdered in 2002, lauds 15 men and women who furthered her mission of protecting children.

April 12, 2006|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

An Orange County woman who launched a foundation to protect children from sexual predators, after her 5-year-old daughter was abducted and murdered, on Tuesday honored 15 men and women who have helped carry out her cause.

Erin Runnion, the keynote speaker at the inaugural Samantha's Pride fundraiser and awards ceremony in Newport Beach, also paid tribute to state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer and Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona as supporters of the Joyful Child Foundation.

Runnion was introduced at the event by California First Lady Maria Shriver, who, like speakers who followed, praised Runnion for turning her grief into a crusade that has helped make America safer for children.

Runnion and her husband, Ken Donnelly, started their nonprofit child safety advocacy foundation in memory of Samantha Runnion, who was playing with a friend outside her Stanton condominium in 2002 when she was abducted by Alejandro Avila. He has since been sentenced to death.

The high-profile case led to the statewide adoption of the Amber Alert system, which alerts freeway drivers that a child has been abducted. It also prompted Runnion to create the Samantha's Pride program, which relies on parents and other caretakers taking turns supervising children and setting up sidewalk patrols to watch for potential predators.

"Our strategy is simple," Runnion told the crowd at the Fairmont Newport Beach. "We're going to be out there watching."

Runnion, who is also pushing for legislation that would create a national database of sexual offenders, said she was trying to live up to the promise and potential her daughter could have brought to the world. She reminded her audience that one person can make a difference.

"From one flower, 1,000 more flowers can grow," she said, a reference to the sunflowers that Samantha loved.

She awarded those who "had the courage" to bring Samantha's Pride to life. They were Nicole Meloche, Alison Hahn and Frances Vangrin of San Clemente; Brendi de Roggenbuke of Aliso Viejo; Lori Margolis of Mission Viejo; Tracy Peterson of Brea; Barbra Davis of Fullerton; Gina Allen, Nina Keller and Cynthia Hafner of Riverside County; and Fonda McGensy, Ray Baird, Irene Brown, Frank Condon and Michael Condon.

Lockyer and Carona were recognized for being at the forefront of the Amber Alert system. At Lockyer's request, Carona agreed to implement the system in Orange County when no other authorities were interested. After Samantha's abduction, both were also instrumental in getting the system in place across California.

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