07/17/2002

Kidnapper Warning Issued in SoCal

STANTON, Calif., (UPI) -- Orange County authorities issued a chilling warning Wednesday that a serial kidnapper and killer could be on the loose following the discovery of the body of a 5-year-old girl who was abducted earlier in the week by a man claiming to be looking for his lost dog.

Sheriff Mike Carona confirmed at news conference that the child's body found off a mountain road late Tuesday was that of Samantha Runnion, who had been grabbed the day before just 100 yards from her home in a Stanton apartment complex.

"We believe that there is an on-going risk, based on the profile provided to us by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that this individual will commit another crime of a similar pattern in a relatively short period of time," Carona said. "We need the public to be aware of that so they can continue to support our investigative effort to locate this individual and bring him to justice as quickly as possible."

An autopsy was performed on the body discovered Tuesday afternoon in a ravine along Ortega Highway, a lightly traveled mountain road in the Cleveland National Forest around 50 miles east of Stanton. The sheriff did not confirm that DNA samples had been recovered, although he said forensic tests would lead to a "further profile" of the killer.

Carona said it appeared the child had been sexually assaulted, and the killer's apparent lack of concern about hiding the body or getting rid of physical evidence at the scene was a red flag to FBI profilers in Washington who reviewed digital photographs transmitted from the scene Tuesday night.

"We believe...he wanted us to find the body as a calling card for future activities," Carona said, adding that the public should remain wary and parents should drive home to their kids the importance of avoiding strangers.

FBI Special Agent Richard Garcia said that parents in the Los Angeles metro area -- and elsewhere in the West -- needed to be aware that the profilers had concluded that the suspect could "do this again, and soon."

"The way the body was found...is like a challenge," Garcia said. "He's saying, 'I'm here and I am coming back.'"

A task force of Orange County detectives and FBI agents was in the process of reviewing previous similar cases to see if the same suspect may have been involved, although Garcia said the profilers in Washington did not believe he would attempt to commit another abduction in the Stanton area, but would move on to another location in the Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside Counties area.

The 6-year-old girl who witnessed the kidnapping told deputies that a stranger had approached her and Samantha while they were playing shortly before 7 p.m. Monday and asked if they had seen his lost Chihuahua dog. He then scooped up Samantha, pushed her into a light green Honda or Accura car and sped off.

As she struggled, Samantha told her friend to run and tell her grandmother what was happening.

Samantha's playmate, who was under the sheriff's protection Wednesday, described the man as in his 30s or 40s with brown hair and mustache. Carona said her description of the man's speech patterns led them to believe he was an "Americanized Hispanic" as opposed to a recent immigrant from Latin America.

Law enforcement agencies across the United States and along the Mexican border had been alerted to the kidnapping within hours of its occurrence, and the public was asked to report any suspicious people to the task force at 714-890-4280.

(Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles)

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