by Becky GINOS
SUNSET—It’s been 36 years since the abduction and murder of little 3-year-old Rachael Runyan rocked Davis County. The case has never been solved but her mother Elaine never stopped looking for answers and has become an advocate to protect other children.
“It was Aug. 26, 1982,” said Elaine. “It was a huge case – the biggest unsolved case in Utah history. It would be nice to be done.”
Through her efforts and those of Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, legislation was passed in 2017 to name Aug. 26 as Utah Missing and Exploited Children’s Day. Last weekend, elected officials, child advocates, family and community members came together to commemorate the day and honor Rachael’s memory.
“I was approached by a constituent of mine who said we ought to have a missing and exploited children’s day in Utah,” said Handy. “We have a lot of designated days so I started legislation in 2016 but there wasn’t enough time to get it done so I did it again in 2017. It passed nearly unanimously. It made sense to take Aug. 26 for it.”
May 25 is National Missing Children’s Day that focuses on cases all over the country, said Elaine. “What we’re doing is focusing on exploited children that have been recovered or are still missing to honor Rachael’s memory. We’re working to a day where those kids’ cases are few and far between.”
In 2002, Utah’s AMBER Alert started as the Rachael Alert, said Elaine. “But then after Elizabeth Smart and other high profile cases everyone wanted to know about this alert,” she said. “Within a year all the states had it and they changed the name to avoid confusion.”
However, the Rachael Runyan Award is given out when an AMBER Alert goes out and the child is found. “It goes to the individual who found the child or helped,” said Elaine. “We want to draw attention to preventing these things that can happen to our children and keep it on parents’ minds to educate their children and grandchildren.”
The ordeal started for the Runyan family on a summer day in 1982. “I was preparing lunch and the kids wanted to go to the park,” said Elaine. “It was only about 15 feet from our house. I didn’t feel good about it but I gave in. I could see them and hear them. Then about 20 minutes later my son came in and said a man had taken Rachael in a blue car. I had no idea it would turn into a 24-day nightmare.”
A family on an outing found Rachael’s body near a creek covered by some shrubbery, said Elaine. “We’d searched neighborhoods and made endless phone calls. There was no AMBER Alert so it was difficult to organize. I am grateful that she was found. I would hate to be always wondering.”
Elaine got the park in Sunset renamed to Rachael Runyan Memorial Park two years ago. “It’s still about awareness. It’s the biggest thing that’s happened at that park.”
This is the second year they’ve held the memorial, said Handy. “It’s pretty somber. We need to call attention to these children who are at risk. A monster took a little girl from a park and killed her. We also see terrible domestic situations where one parent takes the kids out of state. We hope to have greater awareness because if we can save one child it’s always worth it.”
Not a day passes that Elaine doesn’t think of Rachael. “We still love and miss her very much,” she said. “This is really all I can do for her. I was only 26 years old and that was the only time I ever let them go there by themselves and look what happened? It’s really hard to understand but I had to give it to God so I could live and go on. I would like for justice to be served.”