Killer of Stanton girl likely to strike again, FBI says

By Chelsea J. Carter, The Associated Press
Thursday July 18, 2002

STANTON— The body of a kidnapped 5-year-old girl was dumped in the open near a rural highway like a “calling card” warning that the killer intends to strike again, investigators said Wednesday. 

Samantha Runnion was believed to have been sexually assaulted and there were signs of trauma to her nude body but no clear cause of death, Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona told a press conference near the girl’s home. An autopsy was under way. 

“Don’t sleep, don’t eat, because we’re coming after you,” Carona warned the killer, saying he is likely both a serial rapist and serial killer. 

A sexual predator who kills is going to do it again, FBI agent Richard Garcia said. The body was found Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the kidnapping. 

“The way the body was found, the fact it was not buried, not hidden and such, and how it was left is almost like a calling card, like a challenge: ’I’m here and I’m coming back again.’ This is the reason why we’re saying this person is going to strike again,” he said. 

Samantha’s 27-year-old mother, Erin Runnion, who made an anguished plea for the return of her daughter a day earlier, stayed in seclusion after the body’s identification. 

The news spread fear in Stanton, a city of 38,000 southeast of Los Angeles. 

Tammie Fike, 31, clutched the hand of her 6-year-old son, Anthony, as she headed to a memorial to say a prayer for Samantha. “I’m scared to let him go out,” said Fike, who instructed her son to yell “fire” and to run if a stranger approached him. 

“I’m only allowed to talk to friends of my mom,” Anthony said. 

Brenda van Dam, whose daughter Danielle was abducted and killed in February in San Diego, said she spoke with Samantha’s mother to offer consolation. 

“They were both sweet, wonderful girls who loved life and their family,” van Dam said in a statement released to reporters. 

Garcia addressed the unknown killer directly during the televised news conference. 

“The individual is in fact watching us right now. I want to tell you ... we will find you and we will bring you to justice,” Garcia said. 

The kidnapper was described as Hispanic, but used Americanized language that indicated he was probably not foreign-born. He had slicked-back black hair and a thin black mustache and wore a powder blue button-down shirt at the time. 

Samantha’s abduction Monday evening was the nation’s fourth high-profile disappearance of a child this year. Her remains were identified by her grandmother through photos from the site where the body was found. 

The body was discovered Tuesday afternoon in neighboring Riverside County near two-lane Highway 74 on the edge of the Cleveland National Forest, about 50 miles from Stanton. The road is a heavily traveled route between the two counties. 

Two men spotted the body about 3 p.m. in a ravine near a hang-gliding launch site. 

“Because the body was found very quickly, we have a high expectation that there will be significant forensic evidence found at the scene and significant forensic evidence found on the body of Samantha Runnion,” the sheriff said. 

Samantha and friend Sarah Ahn, 5, were sitting on a wall playing a guessing game about 150 feet from Samantha’s home Monday evening when a man drove up in a two-door light green Honda or Acura after making a U-turn. The man got out and asked for help finding his puppy, then took off with the kicking and screaming girl. 

Samantha’s mother, a British Petroleum analyst in Long Beach, and stepfather, Ken Donnelly, who works at an investment firm, were at work and her grandmother, Virginia Runnion, was at home at the time. 

Samantha’s biological father, Derek Jackson of Sunderland, Mass., was contacted by authorities and ruled out as a suspect, Erin Runnion said Tuesday. 

Samantha, who was born in Massachusetts, would have turned 6 on July 26. She was an advanced student who had just finished first grade at a private elementary school. 

Her abduction follows the high-profile cases of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart in Salt Lake City and 7-year-old Danielle van Dam and 2-year-old Jahi Turner in San Diego. Danielle’ body was found and a neighbor is on trial. Elizabeth and Jahi remain missing.