Two years ago, 5-year-old Samantha Runnion was kidnapped while playing with a friend outside her house in Orange County, Calif.
She was found dead two days later, and after receiving an anonymous tip, police arrested Alejandro Avila, charging him with kidnapping, sexual assault and murder. After many delays, today is the first pre-trial hearing in the case against Avila.
While the case has dragged on, Samantha's mother, Erin Runnion, has turned her grief into action, by founding the Joyful Child Foundation, to celebrate Samantha's spirit and protect other children from harm.
One important step in keeping kids safer, said Runnion, is to coordinate a network of community members to keep their eyes on neighborhood children. "We're not getting organized with our neighbors," she said.
In order to help parents do that, the Joyful Child Foundation recently launched its first program called Samantha's PRIDE, a community-based child watch program. Samantha's PRIDE has started some 50 groups in Orange County and one in Riverside County.
Today on "Good Morning America," Runnion was serenaded by The Kids Next Door, an after-school program through the California Conservatory of the Arts, who sang a selection called "Samantha's Song" from the group's holiday CD. The group is donating the proceeds of the CD, "If I Could Have One Wish ... A Joyful Christmas," to the Joyful Child Foundation.
Runnion also said she and her family have another reason to celebrate this holiday season -- the birth of a new baby.
"It's the first year we'll have something positive," she said of the holidays. "So I'm much more joyful than in the past."
To find out more about The Joyful Child Foundation, visit www.thejoyfulchild.org.
Some Tips on Keeping Kids Safe:
Start a neighborhood watch network. For tips, you can visit The Joyful Child Foundation Web site.
Make sure you have arranged safe, reliable after-school care for your kids and their friends.
Start a rotating system of school bus escorts to escort kids to and from the bus and home.