16 years after her daughter’s murder, Erin Runnion continues advocating for child safety by launching a 5K run – Orange County Register

The Joyful Child Foundation, founded in memory of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion, who was abducted, molested and murdered in 2002, will host its first 5K in Aliso Viejo on Saturday, Jan. 20 to raise funds for education on child abuse.

Days after Samantha’s murder, her mother, Erin Runnion, began to channel her grief by starting The Joyful Child Foundation to advocate for child safety. Now, nearly 16 years later, Runnion said that the foundation has come a long way, from building child-safety workshops across Orange County agencies to recently introducing a more complex, lesson-plan curriculum on child safety for local school districts.

“My first prayer was that (Samantha) would be the last child abducted, and then 11 days after (her murder), on her birthday, the first thing I saw on the news was that a little girl was abducted and murdered in Kansas,” Runnion said. “That’s when it clicked — the more I learned about crimes against children, I realized there’s so much more that we can do to prevent this from happening, and we need to be doing it.”

The BRAVE 5K, named after Samantha’s favorite motto to “be brave,” will be held at Aliso Niguel High School at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 20. The fundraising efforts will go toward expanding the Joyful Child Foundation’s BRAVE curriculum to educate children, parents and educators on child safety and child-abuse prevention.

In the beginning, the foundation focused on parent education of child safety and signs of child abuse, until Runnion realized that the key to keeping children safe is by empowering them, she said.

“To prevent it, it’s really about preventing the whole spectrum of crimes against children,” Runnion said. “The more I learned about children’s vulnerability to violence, the more I realized that it’s all part of the same cycle. The man who had taken Samantha was an abused child and had already sexually abused at least three little girls, that we know of, before he had taken Samantha.”

Working with credentialed teachers and prevention specialists, Runnion has created a 10-lesson elementary school program that allows teachers flexibility in helping children understand safety at home, at school, in public and more. Using methods ranging from practice drills, role-plays and verbal and physical defense strategies, Runnion said the hands-on approach is more comprehensive for children of all ages.

“We teach them that nobody has the right to hurt them and there are things…

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