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In The Pipeline: Ten years later, her joy lives on

July 09, 2012|By Chris Epting
(Courtesy Erin Runnion )

"The hardest things are questions about the time — about what she endured in the last eight, 12 hours. He has admitted to nothing. And that is hard because the imagination is worse than any reality — and then there is the place where she was found."

Erin Runnion and I were having a cup of tea in Huntington Beach last week and she was describing, in part, what inspired a journey she had made several days before to an outpost along the Ortega Highway — to the spot where her daughter Samantha's body was discovered 10 years ago, brutally murdered after being abducted the day before at her home in Stanton by a man named Alejandro Avila (who is now deservedly on death row).

Yes, this Sunday marks 10 years since the precious youngster's face entered the national consciousness. To mark the anniversary and to continue generating awareness for the plight of abducted and abused children, Erin is organizing a series of public events. But this very private trip she took (with our mutual friend, TV producer Maria Hall-Brown, who will be presenting a special edition of "Real Orange" on PBS SoCal that documents the trip) was something Erin said she just needed to do once and for all.

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"Going to where she was found was one of the few details I had not taken in," she said. "I tried to find it once, but they've changed the name of the exact area, so I didn't know what road it was. We went with Jim Amormino from the Orange County Sheriff's Department and Gary Jones, the lead investigator on the case. They showed me exactly where she was found that day. They were there. It was very emotional. Gary, who's been retired for six years but flew down for this, had interviewed the perpetrator for 10 hours. And he was there for every day of the trial."

Erin and I spoke at length about what the last decade has been like for her. Now living in Westminster, she has become a tireless activist and sheer force of nature in the fight to stop sub-human beasts like the one who murdered her daughter, right down to the teachers, coaches, clergy and anyone and everyone else who dare lay an inappropriate hand on a child. Her grace, guts and courage are as refreshing as they are inspiring.

She's particularly outspoken on how poorly she thinks public school systems handle child molestation issues.

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