- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 18, 2002

STANTON, Calif. (AP) The nude body of a kidnapped 5-year-old girl was found dumped in the open near a rural highway in what investigators said yesterday was a "calling card" from the killer warning that he intends to strike again.

Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona said that the cause of Samantha Runnion's death was not immediately known, but an autopsy was under way. The girl was sexually assaulted.

"Don't sleep, don't eat, because we're coming after you," Sheriff Carona warned the killer in a televised news conference near the girl's home in Stanton.

Authorities said there was no prime suspect, and Sheriff Carona warned parents in the area to tell their children to stay away from strangers. Samantha's abductor was described by police as a Hispanic man with slicked-back black hair and a thin, black mustache.

"We believe that he is a serial rapist and perhaps a serial killer and would strike again," the sheriff said.

Samantha's 27-year-old mother, Erin Runnion, who made an anguished plea for the return of her daughter a day earlier, remained in seclusion yesterday.

Samantha's body was discovered Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours and about 50 miles from where she was abducted, kicking and screaming, outside her apartment building by a man who pulled up in a light green Honda or Acura and asked for help finding his puppy. Samantha was playing with a 5-year-old friend at the time.

The abduction was at least the third high-profile disappearance of a child in the United States this year. Seven-year-old Danielle van Dam of San Diego was found dead, and a neighbor is on trial. Fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart of Salt Lake City has been missing since June 5.

Two men who had gone out to do some hang-gliding spotted Samantha's body in a ravine near a glider launch site. It was in neighboring Riverside County, near heavily traveled two-lane Highway 74, on the edge of the Cleveland National Forest.

"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," FBI agent Richard Garcia said.

The remains were identified by the girl's grandmother from photos.

"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's mother, a British Petroleum analyst in Long Beach, and stepfather, Ken Donnelly, who works at an investment firm, were at work at the time of the kidnapping. Her grandmother, Virginia Runnion, was at home.

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

The girl would have turned 6 on July 26. She was an advanced student who had just finished first grade at a private school.

Samantha's family said they moved from nearby Garden Grove to Stanton a year ago because they wanted a safer place for their three children, where they could play outside without fear.

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