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Missing Girl’s Body Found in Calif.

July 17, 2002

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STANTON, Calif. (AP) _ The body of a girl found in a rugged area southeast of Los Angeles was identified by authorities Wednesday as that of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion, who was kidnapped outside her home by a man who drove up and asked for help finding his dog.

Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona said the cause and place of death were not immediately known but authorities believe the girl had been sexually assaulted by her killer.

``We believe that he is a serial rapist and perhaps a serial killer and would strike again,″ Carona said. He said there was no prime suspect.

Carona warned parents in the area to talk to their children about staying away from strangers. Samantha’s abductor has been described by police as a Hispanic man with slicked-back black hair and a thin black mustache.

The body was discovered Tuesday afternoon on the edge of the Cleveland National Forest, about 50 miles from where Samantha was abducted the night before.

Samantha was playing a board game with a friend Monday evening when the man drove up in a car after making a U-turn, police said. She was taken away kicking and screaming after the man lured her toward him with his story about his lost dog.

Authorities began a massive manhunt minutes later.

Samantha’s mother and stepfather, Ken Donnelly, were at work and her grandmother was inside their home when the kidnapping occurred. Erin Runnion wept as she begged for the return of her daughter.

``We don’t want vengeance, we just want our baby back,″ she said Tuesday.

Authorities limited access to the Runnion home Tuesday night. A police chaplain was seen entering the home at one point.

Carona said investigators have received hundreds of tips from the public.

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

The abduction follows the high-profile kidnap cases of Elizabeth Smart in Salt Lake City and Danielle van Dam in San Diego. Van Dam was killed; Smart is still missing.

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

At the Stanton townhome complex, Alex Quintanar, 34, held his 3-year-old daughter, Alexa, who used to play with Samantha.

He said that he did not know how he would answer her questions when she asked for her Samantha.

``When she can understand, I’ll tell her she went to heaven,″ Quintanar said.

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