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Interview With Erin Runnion, Mike Carona

Aired September 19, 2002 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight: 5-year-old Samantha Runnion was kidnapped and murdered just two months ago. It was a crime that shocked us all and broke our hearts.
Now the ordeal of a murder trial looms. On Monday Erin Runnion faced her daughter's accused killer for the first time in person at a pre-trial hearing.

She joins me tonight for the hour.

And with us later, the man who caught Alejandro Avila, a man who dubbed Samantha Runnion "America's Little Girl," Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona.

A mother's grief, a lawman's heroism, and the quest for justice.

Erin Runnion and later Mike Carona and your phone calls next on LARRY KING LIVE.

The sheriff will join us later. We will be including your calls for Erin Runnion, a return visit to LARRY KING LIVE. She was last here on July 25, the night after thousands gathered to honor her daughter, Samantha, in a memorial at the Crystal Cathedral.

What was it like to see the accused in the same room?

ERIN RUNNION, DAUGHTER SAMANTHA, 5, MURDERED TWO MONTHS AGO: I tried to prepare myself for it, but there was no way I could. It was awful. It was awful.

I don't know what it is for everybody else, but I just -- I want so much from that person. I want him to undo what he did. And I want to see some remorse. I want him to know the magnitude of what happened.

And we can't get that, and so I was just in instantly flooded with tears.

KING: How close were you to him?

RUNNION: Oh, I'm terrible at estimating, but he was on the other side of the courtroom.

KING: Did he look at you?

RUNNION: A little bit. A little bit. I think we made eye contact. I was literally flooded with tears, but I think I caught his eye a couple times.

KING: Now, of course he is accused, he's not convicted. I guess in your mind, there's no doubt that he did it, though, right?

RUNNION: In my mind there isn't. In my mind, there isn't. I don't want -- you know, I have to respect our judicial system and let the process be as it is. But I feel it to be true.

KING: You sure didn't respect his previous trials.

RUNNION: No, I did not.

KING: You were -- in fact, the last time you were on the real anger you showed was at that jury, not even at the lawyer...


KING: ... because you thought the lawyer was doing his job, right? The jury.

RUNNION: Well, I've heard him speak since, and I'm less impressed since then.

KING: Because?

RUNNION: Well, you know, I don't think I realized the impact that what I said would have.

KING: It happened right here, and you created a stir everywhere.

RUNNION: I sure did. I sure did.

And I think it's important, because I think the point needs to be heard. And I'm very disappointed that people who were involved on the defense side, on the side of the jurors, that people are so busy defending their position that they aren't honestly looking at the problem.

The problem is that they looked at these two little girls and watched them get cross-examined and didn't believe them, when he didn't even take the stand in his own defense. He was not subject to the same kind of cross-examination the two little girls were.

KING: How, though, do you deal with a system that, one, we got out of a system forcing people to take stand. They don't have to take the stand. And it's still the system. I mean, you either believe in the system -- it can be painful.

But what about the lawyer's actions bothered you?

RUNNION: Oh, I think -- I can't even remember what it was. I heard him say something, and I think it was that he still believes that he wasn't guilty. And, how would he know? He never asked. And that really bothered me. That really bothered me.

KING: That he never did ask. RUNNION: I think, you know, we have an adversarial system, but it doesn't need to be. You need two sides of the same argument, but the goal should be the truth, not whose career are we going to further with this case.

KING: We'll get back to that.

How's life been?

RUNNION: Rocky. Rocky. I think I was in shock the last time you saw me. I was kind of in a daze for a long time, and...

KING: You handled yourself very well.

RUNNION: Thank you.

KING: You were very well composed.

RUNNION: Thank you.

KING: You think you were sort of in -- floating?

RUNNION: I was -- you know, I wasn't in denial, but I think that the reality -- it takes some time for that to set in, you know? It's -- to realize once everybody is gone.

You know, my house was still full of relatives and support and people keeping my occupied and giving me lots of love. And I think that once all of that was gone -- and people have warned me that once the cameras go away and everybody goes back home, you're going to be alone in this.

And I am. And I sit around and I can see her everywhere that she should be.

KING: Who's at the house now?

RUNNION: My mother, Kenneth and Paige and Connor, our children.

KING: Now, Kenneth is your...

RUNNION: Partner.

KING: Partner. Do you intend to marry, by the way?

RUNNION: I do. I absolutely do. We were planning it. It just...

KING: And there are two other children there, right?


KING: Paige and Connor. They're his children or your children?

RUNNION: They're his children. Mine, too, but...

KING: And you get along very well with them?


KING: Are they close with their mother?

RUNNION: Very, yes. But I'm close with her, as well. She's very supportive of my role in their life.

KING: That's very nice. Was she comforting, as well, during this period?

RUNNION: Yes she was. She came out and took care of the children and she -- you know, I've been in her children's life since Connor was 18 months old. So she and I have known each other for a while.

She knew Samantha from the time she was 2, so...

KING: And as I remember...

RUNNION: ... she was very distraught.

KING: ... your two kids loved Samantha, right?

RUNNION: Oh, very much.

KING: Their step-sister -- or half-sister?

RUNNION: Step-sister.

KING: Step-sister. How are they doing?

RUNNION: They're doing OK. I think they're -- my approach to this is kind of to try and be as honest as I can without dumping my grief on them.

And so, you know, we talk a lot about how we can work through this together, and that it's OK to cry. And, you know, my little son, bless his heart, he was in second day of school, I believe, and they're going over the letter "B," and he pipes up with: My sister's dead. I miss her.

And the teacher had to kind of say, OK, OK. Do you want everybody to know that? And she handled it just beautifully. And it was really -- it was actually encouraging because he said -- he told everybody, it helps me to talk about it, and I think that's wonderful. So I think they're on the right track.

KING: You want another child?

RUNNION: Some day. Some day maybe. Not necessarily my own.

KING: You and Ken are so close. You would adopt?

RUNNION: Yes, I would love to adopt. I would love to adopt. KING: Do you try to keep -- some people when they lose something, try to keep it alive. They keep the room intact. Some people say, I can't get everything out, I can't -- what do you do? Is Samantha's room still there?

RUNNION: No. No. But we took all of her favorite things and we put them in glass boxes. And they're beautiful. I have an artist friend, and she did just an incredible job.

KING: So that you can see them?

RUNNION: They're on display, all of her favorite things. I sleep on her pillow.

KING: Her clothes, gave away?

RUNNION: No, no. The clothes that were washed, yes. But the clothes that weren't washed, we have all those.

KING: How about her young friend, Sarah, the witness to all of this, the girl who saw her get into the car...


KING: ... how's she doing?

RUNNION: She's doing OK. She's doing OK. She comes by now and she plays with our other two children.

KING: How old is she?

RUNNION: She's 6. She's 6.

KING: Can they comprehend at 6?

RUNNION: You know, they certainly comprehend that she's gone. I don't think -- you know, part of the thing that just infuriates me is that children should not have to know that there is so much bad out there.

KING: Bad, yes. How do you keep it from them?

RUNNION: I know. It used to be much easier, I think.

KING: You said, I remember, that you were going to have a birthday party as planned, invitations had been sent, Samantha's 6th birthday. How did that go?

RUNNION: It was beautiful.

KING: Had to be weird?

RUNNION: It was weird. It was weird. But it was beautiful.

It was -- it started out, actually, we went to the sheriff's headquarters and he presented a plaque to our family with Samantha's picture, and they gave her name to their two mission control centers, their mobile command units. And on the side it said: "When we collaborate, good will always triumph over evil." And they're named Samantha One and Two, the two different command centers. So that was kind of her first birthday gift.

KING: And then was there a party at the house?


KING: You had cake?

RUNNION: We had cake; a big giant cake. And we -- several of our closest friends told stories about Samantha.

KING: But what kind of gifts came to the house?

RUNNION: All kinds of gifts from complete strangers. They went out shopping for her. They really did.

KING: More in a minute. Sheriff Carona later, your calls in a little while.

We'll be right back with Erin Runnion. Don't go away.



RUNNION: See my face?


RUNNION: I love you.

SAMANTHA RUNNION: I love you, too, Mama.



KING: Discussing the ordeal of the late Samantha Runnion. And her mother, Erin is us, Sheriff Mike Carona, the sheriff of Orange County who handled the investigation will be joining us at the bottom of the hour. I'm going to start including your phone calls momentarily.

A lot of kids come to the party?

RUNNION: Yes, yes.

KING: Was Peter Pan the celebratory figure at the party?

RUNNION: Yes, yes. There was even somebody dressed up as Peter Pan sprinkling fairy dust.

KING: That's really nice. Are you ready to face the ordeal of a trial? You don't have to get another witness.

RUNNION: No. I'm not. But I'm a potential witness when it comes to the penalty phase.

KING: If convicted they will, as we just saw with Mr. Westerfield. Did you follow that trial?

RUNNION: I didn't. I was so wrapped up in my own world. But am I ready? no, I'm definitely not ready for a trial.

KING: Are you going to attend?

RUNNION: I think so. I think, you know, I'm working with the DA and we're kind of -- he's -- Mr. Rackauckas is just a wonderful man and he's been very...

KING: The district attorney?


KING: It's a tough call when you attend, you bring back the memory every day.

RUNNION: Yes. And so he's working with me. I don't necessarily think I'm going to be there for the preliminary hearing just because I don't really want to hear the evidence twice.

KING: Enough. If he's convicted, are you going to offer an opinion at the penalty trial about how he should be life or death or not?

RUNNION: Maybe. I don't know.

KING: You don't know yet?

RUNNION: I don't know yet.

KING: Hard to ask for life but he took a life if convicted.

RUNNION: That's true. Right.

KING: Not easy.


KING: Murietta, California, hello.

CALLER: Hi. I was just -- I just first wanted to say you're the strongest woman, and I wanted to know where you get your support to get through this.

KING: How old are you?

CALLER: Me? I'm 15.

RUNNION: Hello there. Well, thank you so much. KING: Where do you get the support?

RUNNION: I get the support from my family and my faith. I think just trusting that there is purpose in everything and a lesson to be learned and a gift to give. And, so, I'm just trying my darnedest to do that.

KING: You're not a deeply religious person, though, as you said last time.

RUNNION: No. Not specifically religious, no.

KING: But you do believe?

RUNNION: Yes, very strongly.

KING: Cary in North Carolina, hello.

CALLER: Good evening. My condolences to yourself. My son was robbed and murdered two years ago. He was a senior in high school, and I have for the last two years wondered who it was that had committed this crime to my child. I'm wondering if, with your instance, that you have known right away, if that has helped you in my way or actually hindered your grieving process?

RUNNION: Well, you know, I think...

KING: That's an interesting question.

RUNNION: That's a very good question. And you have my sincere condolences, as well. It's a very good question. I think that more than anything it distracts you or it has the potential to distract you from your grief because you can focus on the anger. And I sure hope that they find that person for you.

KING: Better knowing than not knowing.

RUNNION: I think it's better knowing than not, absolutely. But I think at the same time, the grief doesn't change. Knowing that he's in jail really only makes me feel better knowing that he's not going to hurt anybody else. That's what's important and that's why they need to find that man.

KING: You have a Joyful Child foundation. What does it do?

RUNNION: Right now, we're in our infancy but we are working to establish child watch programs nationwide and safe businesses for children. And, our other initiative...

KING: Safe businesses? where mothers can take their children to work with them?

RUNNION: Or children who lost can go into schools -- go into businesses. If they're lost in a mall, they see the logo in the window.

KING: Oh, so like the sneaker store could be a lost...

RUNNION: Exactly.

KING: ... in a mall, if you know you're a child, you're lost, go to the store.

RUNNION: Go to the sneaker store, exactly.

KING: If you want more information, want to help, it's 1-866 -- that's toll free, right?


KING: OK, 1-866-7-JOYFUL, J-O-Y-F-U-L, 1-866-7-JOYFUL, or you can go, There also is What is that?

RUNNION: That is actually the site that was set up the night she disappeared and...

KING: It's still active?

RUNNION: And it's still active. People write to me and I get those e-mails. So I get lots of e-mails.

KING: From people who have also lost children a lot?

RUNNION: Lots of people who have lost people, yes.

KING: You have a common bond, do you?

RUNNION: Yes. It's very sad.

KING: Columbus, Ohio, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Ms. Runnion, I want you to know you're an incredible woman and you are in my thoughts and prayers every day.

RUNNION: Thank you.

CALLER: I have a question as a parent who's been through what you've been through. I know in November the Supreme Court is getting ready to rule on the constitutionality of posting sex offenders pictures and addresses online.


CALLER: As a parent who's been through what you've been through, how important do you feel it is to have this information online and if you could say something to the Supreme Court when they make their decision...

KING: Sir, who did you lose?

CALLER: I didn't lose anyone, actually Samantha has been an inspiration for me... KING: Oh, I see.

CALLER: ... to be very active to look for missing children.

KING: What do you think of that?

RUNNION: That's wonderful. The posting them on the Internet I think -- I don't have a problem with it. I really don't. I think my biggest concern with it is that I want people to be aware that not -- you know, I don't even believe that half of the people who commit these crimes are ever even charged, much less convicted and released. So if you go online and you don't see somebody on your two-mile radius, this guy lived 75 miles away from me. You know, I don't want you to have a false sense of security based on that. And, you know, I think we really need to focus on preventing it but it's a dangerous thing. It really is.

KING: Treading dangerous...

RUNNION: Treading dangerous water. I have to be very careful. I'm young and I have a lot to learn.

KING: Are you worried about what will be trial intensity? I mean, this is Court TV and a lot of other people, coverage.

RUNNION: Right, right. Well, you know, I didn't want cameras in the courtroom because this case isn't just murder.

KING: Will there be cameras or not?

RUNNION: Not for the preliminary hearing. He hasn't ruled on the...

KING: Ruled yet. You don't want them?

RUNNION: I don't. I don't. You know, the charges against him, I don't even think you can read them on television. I mean, they're graphic and awful. And, you know, I don't think people really understand, you know, or are prepared for what that might be like.

KING: You mean it lists everything he did to Samantha?

RUNNION: There are two specific counts of molestation that are very hard to hear.

KING: And they're described.


KING: We'll be right back with Erin Runnion, more phone calls, Sheriff Mike Carona joins us at the bottom of the hour. Don't go away.


(AUDIO/VIDEO GAP) RUNNION: ... that they want to know more about Samantha, so it might happen.

KING: Tampa, hello.

CALLER: Yes, Larry. My question for Ms. Runnion is, how do you feel about teaching young children as young as preschool and, perhaps, kindergarten, basic awareness and defensive skills in order to, perhaps, give our children something to fight back against when it comes to the dangers they might incur?

RUNNION: I think that education is extremely important. I think that we also want to make sure that we're educating adults as much as we are children, because I think it's one thing all of these abductions this summer have taught us is that you can't expect your children to protect themselves and we must, as communities around the country, take responsibility for our children.

KING: Statesville, North Carolina, hello.

CALLER: Hi. I was just wanting to know if Mr. Avila looked like somebody you had met before or seen before, or if you just thought this was a random act.

RUNNION: No, he -- it is a random act. He had never been anywhere near my child before. I've never seen him in my life.

KING: Some people, after the death of a child, get caught up so much that they form organizations and make it a lifelong work. And we know them. Many become famous. They get wrapped up in it.

Others have -- I've spoken to some who said, I could never do that; I just want it to go away. What about Erin Runnion?

RUNNION: I have to do that.

KING: You will be involved?

RUNNION: I absolutely will be involved. We formed the foundation really fast. And it was because she touched so many hearts. So many people were moved by this that I feel like this is -- the purpose must be that it's time for our nation to take note.

KING: But in a sense, that keeps her alive for you. in a sense, doesn't it?

RUNNION: Oh, absolutely.

KING: But it also is a constant reminder. It's a double-edged sword, isn't it?

RUNNION: It's a constant reminder, but it's a reminder of her bravery; it's a reminder of her joy.

The other piece of the foundation is we're to do after school programs enriching programs in the creative arts, which was Samantha's love. And she and I used to dance around and sing and paint. Almost every day we did something in the arts.

And so I get to take that joy and share it.

KING: Erin, intelligent people always delve into whys. Why? Do you get any answers when you ask the question, why, or how could someone do this to someone?

RUNNION: No. And that is certainly something that, as I move forward in this, I will have to look further. I expect to try and learn something of the psychology that goes into this in order to prevent it, because we have to know what makes them snap, what makes them become violent.

We already know that we have all these molesters out there, and we need to find a way to stop it. That has to be the focus. And I want to know why. I desperately want to know why. But I can't even believe that it's possible.

KING: Were you surprised at all the attention she got?

RUNNION: Of course. Of course.

KING: People contacting you from everywhere, right?

RUNNION: Yes. Everywhere, literally. Trinidad, Spain, everywhere. All over the world people watched. And I'm moved by that. To me, I think she was -- she had that spark that every parent sees in their own child.

KING: We know the memorial service. Was there a funeral?

RUNNION: No, there was not a funeral.

KING: Is she buried somewhere?


KING: Cremated?


KING: Is that your own wish?

RUNNION: Yes. I have her with me.

KING: Oh, you have the ashes with you?

RUNNION: Yes. I can't let go of them yet. I don't know if it's good. It's just -- you know, you're in a daze. You're acting on impulse.

And I don't know if it's the right thing to do, but it's all I could do is be honest with myself in the moment. And that's -- that kind of is continuing; moment to moment is how I'm making decisions. And it felt right because I wanted her next to me. KING: Is it true, as someone once told me -- no, I'll tell you who it was; it was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and Ryder (ph) in Chicago was daughter was murdered; a murder never solved -- that a piece of you goes and is -- you're never the same ever. In other words, you may laugh...


KING: ... you'll be at parties, you'll have fun, you'll have a life, but something is always missing.

RUNNION: Yes. That's absolutely true. And I can feel already that that will always be true. It will. Even when I laugh, there's a sadness behind it.

KING: Not the same laugh, right?

That's kind of the horror to face, but what else -- you have no other choice.

RUNNION: Exactly. Exactly. Well, you know, very early I said, you know, this pain is going to either be a crutch or it's going to be a third leg.

And I need it to be a third leg because that little girl had the courage to fight a man four times her size. And by God, I better to my darndest to keep moving.

KING: How's the grandmother dealing with it?

RUNNION: She's OK. She's -- my mom is extremely spiritual, extremely intelligent. And she's -- her heart is breaking because she has to see me go through it, too. So she misses 'Mantha and the joy that she brought, but she also has to see her baby go through this pain.

KING: Let me repeat that number again for the foundation.

RUNNION: Thank you.

KING: It's 1-866-7-JOYFUL. 1-866-7-JOYFUL. And the Web site is

For e-mails about Samantha and anything you may want to say directly to Erin, it's

Sheriff Mike Carona, who headed the successful investigation into this case, will join Erin and I, and he'll be taking your calls, too.

And that happens right after this.


SHERIFF MIKE CARONA, LED HUNT FOR SAMANTHA RUNNION'S KILLER: We didn't realize it at the time, but Samantha is not just our little girl. She became America's little girl. Samantha was all that was good in the world. And what happened to her is all that was evil in the world.



KING: Erin Runnion, the mother of the late Samantha Runnion, the 5-year-old girl abducted and murdered just in July, remains with us. She's established the Joyful Child Foundation.

And joining us now from Riverside is a very familiar face -- Sheriff Mike Carona, the Sheriff of Orange County. He just got a major award from the citizens of Riverside County in recognition of his cooperation in securing the apprehension of the suspect in the murder of Samantha Runnion.

Good to see you, again, Sheriff. We'll be taking calls for both the sheriff and Erin.

Why did you get so apparently wrapped up in this?

CARONA: I'm sorry, Larry. Are you talking to me?

KING: Yes. What made you, as a law enforcer, get so wrapped up in this particular case?

CARONA: Well, actually I get this wrapped up in any of the major crimes that take place in Orange County. But if it involves a child, I can tell you that the men and women of the Orange County Sheriff's Department, whether we're parents or not, take it very seriously, take it very personally.

And as a father of an 11-year-old, when I looked at Samantha's picture and recognized what she had been through, there was a personal commitment from me that we were going to put every resource we had available to making sure that we brought her killer to justice.

KING: And what do you make of -- we've been talking to her for a half hour, her second appearance here -- of how well Erin handles herself?

CARONA: Well, Erin's an incredible lady. It's got to be very difficult now that the media has all died down and she has time to spend with her thoughts. And not having Samantha with her, it's got to be devastating.

But I can tell you she has risen above her personal turmoil and her personal grief and is now reaching out to help out other young children so that they don't fall prey to what Samantha did.

KING: And Erin, you were telling me the Sheriff is going to get involved in setting up programs. Right?

RUNNION: Well, he has been very active, it's my understanding, in insuring that we have a Proposition 49 in California that's going to increase the after-school programs -- quadruple the spending for after-school programs, which keep children safe for longer hours during that witching hour when they're all out getting into trouble. And the Sheriff has been very active in that effort.

And since after-school programs is one of the initiatives in the Joyful Child Foundation, I was really happy to hear that he not only cares about getting the criminal, but preventing them from becoming criminals.

KING: Sheriff, are these kinds of crimes, in your opinion, preventable?

CARONA: Absolutely, Larry. They're preventable from several different points -- one, the education of our children; two, the education of parents; three, the education of the public; and then that cooperative effort that we all start to watch out -- Americans taking care of Americans -- that we watch out for those who are the weakest in our community. And children fall into that category.

KING: What is your role, Sheriff, in the case now?

CARONA: Well, my role and the role of the members of the Orange County Sheriff's Department is to make sure that all the investigative data is turned over to the District Attorney and to defense counsel so that this case can be prosecuted and this man brought to justice.

Our investigative team -- our teams are doing just that. But from my standpoint, it's -- I'm on the sidelines now cheering the District Attorney along and hoping that the jury makes the right decision.

KING: You told us last time, Erin, that Sheriff Carona was special and that you knew it almost when you met him before they found Samantha. What did he have? What does he have?

RUNNION: Dedication -- I think a genuine commitment to bringing the children home safely. I really do. I think he's a committed officer and really cares about the people that he's serving and the community that he serves.

KING: What was the key, Sheriff, to the success of this investigation?

CARONA: There were several keys, Larry. The first one was that the public joined us and the media reached out to the public on our behalf, and everybody was focused on finding Samantha's killer.

And the other was the collaboration that took place amongst major law enforcement agencies. There were no egos involved. Everybody kept focused on making sure that Samantha's killer was brought to justice. And four major agencies all put every resource they had on the table and laid the egos aside to make sure that Samantha's killer was brought to justice.

KING: And you were one praising media attention, right, Sheriff? There are those who criticize media as being too attentive. CARONA: Well, Larry, I -- I'll tell you right up front, if it weren't for you and your colleagues in the media that were willing to step up and keep this -- keep America focused on this particular case -- more importantly, keep the suspect's profile out in front, we would not have been able to catch Mr. Avila as quickly as we did. We would eventually have gotten him, but you all made this case for us. You were major players and major supporters of this investigation.

RUNNION: Absolutely.

KING: You agree with that, Erin?

RUNNION: Absolutely.

KING: There have been reports that Riverside County is looking into, I'm told, new allegations from one of the young girls that Avila was acquitted of molesting the last time. Is that true?

CARONA: You know, Larry, I don't know. I'm out here in Riverside County with Sheriff Doyle (ph), and if I had known you were going to ask that question, I'd have checked with the Sheriff. But I can't -- I don't have any independent knowledge of that.

KING: Had you heard anything, Erin?

RUNNION: I have not heard that.

KING: We'll take a break, and when we come back, we'll take calls for both Erin Runnion and Sheriff Mike Carona, who have become genuine American heroes and heroines, haven't they? We'll be right back.


KING: Sheriff Mike Carona is with us from Riverside, California. As a post mortem to this, he was even lauded by the President of the United States in special ceremonies in Washington. And Erin Runnion, the mother of the late Samantha Runnion -- we're going to go back to calls.

Houston, Texas -- hello.

CALLER: Hello. Erin, I just first wanted to say I'm sorry for the loss of your precious beautiful little baby, Samantha.

RUNNION: Thank you.

CALLER: But secondly, how do you feel about monitoring children by satellite?

RUNNION: Well, I think ...

KING: I want the sheriff to answer that, too. Go ahead.

RUNNION: OK. I think that the -- if they can hide it in jewelry that has -- have -- you know, a variety of options so that your average predator doesn't recognize it right off the bat, that -- I don't see a problem with it.

There's -- as they get older, it becomes a little more questionable, but I think that it's certainly something we should be looking at.

KING: Privacy is not a right for a five-year-old. Yes.

RUNNION: Right. Exactly.

KING: Sheriff, what do you think?

RUNNION: At what point does it become a right?

KING: Sheriff?

CARONA: Well, Larry, I think it's a decision that parents are going to have to make and a personal decision. Frankly, I think what needs to be done across America is putting out the various opportunities that we have with respect to technology, and satellite monitoring is one of those. If parents want to take advantage of that for their children, then I think it's their choice, and I think it could work very well for us in law enforcement in helping to retrieve a child who's been abducted.

RUNNION: Absolutely.

KING: Columbia, South Carolina -- hello.

CALLER: Hello. Erin, I just wanted to say that our hearts and prayers go out to you.

RUNNION: Thank you.

CALLER: And my question is for the sheriff.

KING: Sure. Go ahead.

CALLER: Having small children, how would you explain to them what to do when approached by a stranger?

CARONA: Well, I think what Samantha did is exactly it. First of all, we don't want children to simply be afraid of somebody because they're a stranger. In fact, a lot of times, we're teaching our children to run to a police officer or a fire fighter, and in fact they are strangers.

The reality is that if somebody approaches you and asks you for something -- like, to find their dog or to come with them, you want to say, "No." And if children are then grabbed -- touched in any way, they need to yell, scream, fight -- do whatever they possibly can.

And by the way, Erin did a beautiful job with Samantha. She gave Samantha that training, and Samantha reacted appropriately. There are just some times, unfortunately, and Samantha's case was one of those, that even with the type of training that she went through, the results aren't the way we hoped to be. RUNNION: You know, one thing that I've been looking at is in Florida law enforcement, they have technology that in a case like Samantha's where she did do everything right, that they have this comprehensive database that they use, like, criminal records and public records and they can track these guys down so fast that it is mind-boggling. And so I've been looking at that, too, because I think that that kind of technology could bring children home alive.

KING: Do we have any knowledge, Sheriff, as to what causes a person who -- to harm a child?

CARONA: Larry, I don't know the mind of a criminal. And I know you've had several psychiatrists and psychologists on your show that have tried to explain it. I don't know that there's an explanation for it. Anybody that would want to destroy a child's life -- from my perspective, there's not a reasonable explanation for that.

KING: Apple Valley, Minnesota -- hello.

CALLER: Hello, Erin?


CALLER: Do you support any groups who are lobbying to keep convicted child molesters behind bars?

RUNNION: Indefinitely?

CALLER: Possibly so, yes.

RUNNION: OK. I don't know of any specifically yet. I'm -- the judicial system has a lot of work to do in this area.

One thing that I absolutely think is necessary is truth in sentencing. You know the average child molester is sentenced to eight years and only serves four. And I think that is a crying shame, and especially when over half of them recommit in five years, it's disgusting.

KING: Do you, Sheriff -- are you made knowledge of the fact of previous molesters who may be out now having served their time who live in Orange County?

CARONA: Yes, sir. In California, we have a database -- we call it "290 Registrants." Those are people who have some type of sexual crime in their -- in their background that requires them to register with local law enforcement. And we keep those, and they're separated actually in three categories. And the top two categories -- "Serious" and "Habitual Sex Offenders" -- we look at very, very carefully. In fact we monitor them on an ongoing basis.

KING: Coon Rapids, Minnesota -- hello. Coon Rapids, are you there?

CALLER: I'm wondering if you are ever going to forgive the man who did this to your daughter? RUNNION: Forgive -- that's not up to me. When he dies, he can see if Samantha forgives him. That's not up to me.

KING: We'll be right back with our remaining moments with Sheriff Mike Carona and Erin Runnion. Don't go away.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Her celestial body is flying just as she always wanted to fly. And she is free. She is playing and laughing and creating beauty and light. She is with us through our thoughts and through our memories and through our love. And she lives on in our hearts. And she still touches her sweet, lovely mother's cheek. She is only a thought away.


KING: Sheriff, that award the citizens of Riverside gave you in essence was that a surprise or did you know it was coming?

CARONA: Well, it was a surprise. Several days ago, they had asked me to come out here and they honored both myself and Sheriff- elect Doyle (ph) for the cooperative effort between our two counties. It was a very nice -- very nice thing that the citizens of Riverside County did and it touched my heart. I'm bringing it back to show Erin tomorrow morning.

KING: Are you two going to be together tomorrow morning?

RUNNION: We have a meeting, yes, at the office.

KING: Beacon, New York -- hello.

CALLER: Hi, Erin. I'm very sorry about your loss. Your daughter was a beautiful child.

RUNNION: Thank you.

CALLER: My question is for Sheriff Carona. With the sex registration system, do you feel it's very effective in keeping these perverts away from children?

CARONA: No, I don't think the system is effective in keeping perverts away from children. I think what it is effective at doing is identifying in our communities those individuals who have sexual deviancy in their past and have been convicted of sexual crimes. The beauty of that is now that there's a heightened awareness in our communities, I believe at least in California, we're going to have the opportunity to, like three strikes, put away those who clearly cannot live in our communities because of their sexual deviancy -- keep them behind bars to keep our children safe.

KING: You applaud that?


KING: Shelby, North Carolina -- hello.

CALLER: Yes, Mrs. Runnion, I'm very sorry for your loss, but my concern is for the gentleman who found your daughter and how distressed he was. Could you tell us how he is doing -- either you or the Sheriff?

RUNNION: I don't know. I hope he's doing OK.

KING: Sheriff, do you know?

CARONA: No, sir, I don't. And he's out here in Riverside County. I was supposed to speak in two weeks to a church that I understand he attends, but I have not had any personal contact with him.

KING: Did you talk to him, Erin?

RUNNION: I have not spoken with him, and I would -- I would certainly love to because he -- I owe him so much for being so brave.

KING: You'd like him to contact you.

RUNNION: Yes. Yes.

KING: Well, he could do that through the Sheriff, couldn't he?


KING: Akron, Ohio -- hello.

CALLER: Hi, there. Erin, my question for you is "How is your -- is it your ex-husband? How is he doing?"

RUNNION: I don't really know. We don't have any contact. I'm sure he's still extremely distraught over losing Samantha.

KING: Sheriff, can any -- can any good come of this?

CARONA: Larry, I think a lot of good already has come of it. Here in California, the Amber Alert program that we had originated here in Orange County is now going statewide. Governor Davis has signed a bill and the legislature has moved forward with a broad, very extensive Amber Program on the State of California. The President's looking at it on a -- on a national basis, and October 2, the President is for the first time bringing together leaders from across America to look at how we're going to deal with child abuse and sexual abuse and missing and exploited children in America. I think this has touched all Americans and is clearly getting the attention of policymakers that will weigh in heavily to keep our children safe.

KING: Do you get the feeling, Erin, that Samantha may save some lives?

RUNNION: I certainly do. I certainly do. I think, you know, having the Amber Alert passed so quickly after her death -- four girls have very likely been saved by that -- by that technology. The key to the Amber Alert is that it goes over the radio waves, so it interrupts radio broadcasts so the people in the cars will be looking out at all those cars around them. And if we can get that nationwide, I think we'll bring a lot of babies home safe.

KING: Have you gone back to work yet?

RUNNION: I have not gone back yet. They're being very gentle with me at BP.

KING: You work for who?

RUNNION: BP -- Beyond Petroleum.

KING: And they've allowed you the time. They're paying you your salary and ...

RUNNION: They've been very generous, yes. Very concerned for me, and I'm going to start back soon.

KING: Sheriff, you have ambitions beyond Sheriff?

CARONA: Well, right now I'm loving the day job, Larry. I love the opportunity to work as the Sheriff, and I have no idea what God's got in my future, but there's going to be life after Sheriff whether that's a political life or off into private industry, I don't know. But I just got re-elected, so I have another four years to serve the citizens of Orange County and I plan on doing that.

KING: I would gather, Erin, he will have your vote ...

RUNNION: Oh, you bet he will. I think we're very lucky to have him.

KING: ... for whatever he runs for, right?

RUNNION: Absolutely. Absolutely.

KING: Thank you very much, Mike. It's always good seeing you.

CARONA: Thank you, Larry, and thank you for all your help and support.

KING: Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You're a great person.

And Erin, what can we say?

RUNNION: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Be well. Be strong. Hang tough.

RUNNION: Thank you.

KING: We'll be back and tell you about tomorrow night right after these words.


KING: Jeanne Phillips -- you know her as "Dear Abby" -- returns to LARRY KING LIVE tomorrow night. Monday night -- Christopher Reeve and his wife will be here live for the hour with your phone calls.


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