(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 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.
Girls Support Network will be hosting a radKIDS course for girls in Laguna Niguel, Aug. 20-24 at . Visit the 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, 10 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 10 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