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Mom coping slowly after Samantha's death

Samantha Runnion
Samantha Runnion  

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- In the month since 5-year-old Samantha Runnion was abducted from her front lawn and killed, her mother has celebrated the girl's 6th birthday, reluctantly rearranged her room, and started a foundation to help children in her daughter's memory.

"I'm doing OK," Erin Runnion told CNN's "Connie Chung Tonight." "I think I'm doing as well as can be expected. It's a roller coaster."

Samantha would have turned 6 on July 26. The birthday party Runnion had planned did not happen, but the family celebrated anyway, to remember the joy Samantha brought to their lives.

"It was difficult, but it was also absolutely necessary," she said. "I think we'll have to celebrate her birthday every year. She was such a gift to me and I had to celebrate her life, even if she wasn't here to join me."

Friends and relatives gathered on that day to watch videos, look at pictures, and tell "really happy stories" of the girl they lost.

She said she changed Samantha's room so it would be "comfortable" for her sister and brother, the two children of Runnion's live-in boyfriend, Ken Donnelly. "That was one of the hardest days," she said.

Objects of Samantha's are now displayed in shadow boxes throughout the home, so the family can "have some of her in every room."

Runnion said her daughter's death inspired her to start a foundation, called The Joyful Child, to encourage families and communities to become familiar with one another so they can be aware of unusual goings-on in their neighborhood and be alert to dangers.

"Our mission," Runnion said, "is to continue to unite and uplift our nation's communities in protection and wonderment of all children."

Samantha's abductor snatched her kicking and screaming from the front of her home where she had been playing with a friend. That friend witnessed the kidnapping and helped police describe the culprit.

As the foundation seeks to help others in Samantha's name, Runnion said it is also helping her focus on something besides grief, she said. It is also helping Donnelly's two children recover and feel safe.

"It helps them refocus, just like Ken and I are, on insisting that some purpose be made out of this," Runnion said. "Because we can't let her die in vain. We just can't. And they agree with that, and it's hard."

She said moving on will be a "lifelong process."

Erin Runnion
Erin Runnion  

Runnion said the thorough work of the Orange County Sheriff's Department has left her convinced that Samantha's accused killer, Alejandro Avila, is guilty of the crime. He has pleaded not guilty and has said he was at a mall when Samantha was killed.

Whether Runnion will attend Avila's trial will be up to Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, she said.

"Whatever he decides is in the best interest of the case, I will do," she said. "It's terrifying to think of what that process will be like, but I'm in good hands."

The one thing Runnion said she does want to know from her daughter's killer is what Samantha's last hours were like, though she admits that information may be extraordinarily painful.

"Your imagination is horrible, and I want to know," she said. "I want to stop the guessing, because that is endless and very painful."




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