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Erin Runnion Discusses Her Daughter's Murder

Aired July 25, 2002 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: An important show tonight, but a very sad one, too. With me for the hour is Erin Runnion. She's the mother of the late Samantha Runnion, the 5-year-old who became America's little girl during the past week-and-a-half.

Last night thousands of people honored Samantha in a service at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. A deeply moving moment filled with loving memories and music.

And on behalf of all of us here at CNN -- I think I can safely speak for everybody who knows anything about this story -- our deepest condolences, and we thank you for coming.


KING: What was that like for you yesterday?

RUNNION: Overwhelming. Overwhelming. The outpour from everyone, the love that people are showing us has just been incredible.

KING: Surprising?

RUNNION: Yes, surprising. I mean, everything happened so fast that for everybody to be sending all these letters, and the vigil outside our home was just beautiful. And that, really, I just felt like I had to give them something back because they gave us so much.

KING: Why the Crystal Cathedral?

RUNNION: Because it's beautiful. Because it means so much to so much of the community. It's very much part of our community. And...

KING: Is it your church?

RUNNION: No, no. I'm not affiliated with any church. But the Reverend Schuller was kind enough to open it to us, and respect my wishes of it being a multidenominational event, because we were getting letters in Arabic, in Hebrew and every possible language under the sun. And I'm still trying to find people to read them to me.

And people think I speak Spanish, and I barely do. But I am trying very hard to read them all.

KING: And you had everyone come to you, right? Mormon missionaries came...

RUNNION: Oh, absolutely.

KING: They all came.

RUNNION: Absolutely. Everybody from every denomination, from every ethnic background.

KING: And do you think that was the uniqueness of this little girl?

RUNNION: I think so.

KING: Just the way she looked, and the way it was presented.

RUNNION: Her spirit, because she was the kind of kid everybody says that even people who didn't like children loved her.

KING: Now, what gives you this strength? This strength to be even a little ebullient, to come here?

RUNNION: Yes. People have basically told me that I need to talk to them. By reaching out to me, I feel like I have a duty to reach out to them. By being put in this position, I feel like this is my opportunity to make something out of my baby's death; that this gives it some purpose, that we will hopefully save some babies' lives...

KING: We'll talk about that.

RUNNION: ... educate some people.

KING: Do you believe in God?

RUNNION: I believe in a creator, absolutely. Whatever you name him.

KING: I mean, do you have any thoughts as to where Samantha is? Do you have feelings that she might be somewhere, a feeling of spirit? Is it too soon?

RUNNION: I felt her when she went. I felt her when she went.

KING: Explain.

RUNNION: Oh, I was instantly just freezing.

KING: Really?

RUNNION: I chilled, and chattering teeth and blinding light. I just knew.

KING: No kidding?

RUNNION: I couldn't accept it, of course. It was before anybody knew.

KING: This was before you were told?

RUNNION: Oh yes. Oh yes.

But I had a sense. And I think that that gave me strength, because I'm very spiritual, but I don't define it, and I don't like to articulate it because I think the faiths are here for everyone for a reason. I believe that everyone has their own way of grieving, their own faith.

KING: Erin, who did tell you?

RUNNION: Who did tell me?

KING: Was it the sheriff?

RUNNION: Gosh, I don't even remember the face that told me.

KING: It was a face, not a phone call?

RUNNION: No, it was not a phone call. Absolutely not. No, actually, we were at the sheriff's office.

KING: Oh, you were there?

RUNNION: Yes, yes. And they came in and told us.

KING: Did you know it before -- you said you knew it before you knew it?


KING: Did you know it when they walked in?


KING: You had to hear it, though?

RUNNION: Yes, yes. Yes. You had to hear it. Nothing prepares you for it. Nothing.

KING: Getting through that service, what -- how did you -- how were you -- self-examine yourself. How were you able, do you think, to do that?

RUNNION: Samantha. She was...

KING: She made you...

RUNNION: Yes. She used to write notes to everybody, be brave, be brave. That was her motto; that was her personal motto. And I have a duty to respect that and do the best I can to stay up.

KING: I understand. Any time you're feeling trouble, we'll take a break. This is...

RUNNION: Thank you. KING: We're here to learn.

You were not married to her father, right?

RUNNION: No, no.

KING: And he was not close to his daughter?

RUNNION: No, no. He sent her presents every holiday, birthdays, that sort of thing, he sent her a package. But he hadn't spoken to her or anything.

I went to Massachusetts just before her second birthday and found him and let her see him for a day.

KING: So she knew she had a daddy?

RUNNION: Yes, absolutely. And I read the letters that he wrote to her. I read them to her. And I just explained to her that he was not ready to be in her life right now; that if he could, he would.

KING: Did you inform him, or did some other people inform him?

RUNNION: I actually did.

KING: You called?

RUNNION: Yes, yes. My hope, of course, because the vast majority of abductions are estranged parents. So of course my instant hope was that...

KING: He took her.

RUNNION: He took her, because I knew that she'd be alive.

So the worst call was when he called me back. That was the worst call.

KING: And then you had to tell him she died? How did he deal with that, as a removed father?

RUNNION: He was devastated. He was devastated.

KING: Do you think he would have gotten to know her?

RUNNION: In time?

KING: Yes.

RUNNION: I don't know. I don't know.

KING: Now the gentleman -- you're not married now.


KING: But you've lived with this gentleman for some time? RUNNION: Kenneth Donnally (ph).

KING: And he has two children...

RUNNION: Yes, yes.

KING: That live with you.

RUNNION: Yes, yes.

KING: And they are?

RUNNION: Page (ph) and Conner (ph).

KING: Conner and Page. Nice names. A 10-year-old girl and a 5- year old boy?


KING: How did Samantha deal with them, and they with her?

RUNNION: We have been a family for almost four years. So Samantha was 2 1/2, Conner was 18 months old, and Page had just turned 7. So we worked hard to make sure that they all realized their unity as a family, and they did. And they did.

KING: Did Samantha treat them as brother and sister?

RUNNION: Absolutely.

KING: And they her?

RUNNION: Yes, very much.

KING: Was she the little baby sister?

RUNNION: She was Page's little baby sister. Drove her crazy, yes. And she was Conner's best friend, really.

KING: Yes?

RUNNION: Yes. She gave him courage and cheered him on, straightened him up and fixed his shirt when it was out. Took care of him.

KING: Was she a healthy baby?

RUNNION: Very, very.

KING: No problems getting to 5, no...

RUNNION: No, no.

KING: She would have been 6 tomorrow?

RUNNION: Yes. Yes. KING: Did you have a party planned?


KING: Was it for tomorrow?

RUNNION: Yes. Going to her favorite restaurant with Sarah, actually, her best friend...

KING: Tell me about her.

RUNNION: ... stay at Disneyland.

Sarah? What a trooper.

KING: The girl who witnessed it, right?

RUNNION: Yes. That little girl is a warrior, yes she is. She -- for her to give the description that she did, to have the composure that she has had throughout this entire thing.

KING: The sheriff at this show said she solved this crime for him.

RUNNION: Yes, yes. She and Samantha together.

KING: She and Samantha together.

RUNNION: Yes, yes.

KING: More in a minute with Erin Runnion, the mother of Samantha Runnion. You're watching LARRY KING LIVE. We'll be right back.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Her celestial body is flying, just as she always wanted to fly. And she is free. She's 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 touches her sweet, lovely mother's cheek.

She is only a thought away.



KING: We're with Erin Runnion. Who put that whole service together, in a short time?

RUNNION: The sheriff's department.

KING: Really? They got the choirs.

RUNNION: Yes. Lieutenant Mike James and a dear friendly friend, Jesse (ph). They put it all together. KING: I was certain that couldn't have been left in your hands.

RUNNION: No, no. They asked me what I wanted. And I gave them the general idea of what I wanted. And they did it to the tee. It was just perfect.

KING: You told me during the break, Erin, that you will somehow celebrate that birthday tomorrow.


KING: You're going to have like a party at home.


KING: With kids coming over?


KING: And cake?

RUNNION: Absolutely with cake. Peter Pan and her (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KING: Is this like a good-bye?

RUNNION: Yes, it will be our good-bye, our personal good-bye.

KING: A lot of people wonder looking at you where the anger is. Is there anger?

RUNNION: I have very little room for anger, very little room. It's all hurt. It's all sadness. And I don't -- I just...

KING: Do you look with hatred on the alleged perpetrator?

RUNNION: I don't. I don't look at him at all. I try not to look at him.

KING: And we were told that you don't even want to discuss what should happen to him.

RUNNION: Absolutely not.

KING: That's -- whatever the authorities want to do, you won't even give them input.

RUNNION: No, no. The district attorney has my complete faith and our judicial process is going to have to do better this time. And I think it will. I think it will.

KING: What happened? She was at her grandmother's house, right?

RUNNION: At my house. Grandma lives with us.

KING: Grandma's with you? She's with you, right? RUNNION: Yes.

KING: Her friend is with her, right? School is out. Was she -- had she started school yet? Was she in preschool or...

RUNNION: Oh, no. She had just finished first grade.

KING: She had finished -- at five?

RUNNION: Yes. Yes.

KING: Not bad.

RUNNION: No, she was impressive.

KING: Did you see her go out in the yard? What happened?

RUNNION: I was at work. Ken was at work. And Grandma was there. And Samantha often played in the courtyard with all the children.

KING: And all the children were around?

RUNNION: I have to assume so. I wasn't there. Really, I don't even know the whole story because if it wasn't in a press conference, I didn't watch it.

KING: You didn't watch no television.


KING: Even while where is she was going on?

RUNNION: No, no. The sheriff's department was wonderful to me, and they came and briefed me before they ever spoke to the public so that I didn't have to watch anything if I didn't want to. And I watched the press conferences and would turn it off the second any commentary began.

KING: Are you surprised that she screamed?

RUNNION: No, I'm not. Absolutely not. She fought, and I know she did. She was my tiger. That's why I called her that, my little tiger.

KING: Had you discussed that with her, if a stranger comes over?

RUNNION: Yes. And she had been through the sheriff's department's program through the schools.

KING: Oh, really?

RUNNION: Yes. Kick, bite, scream. She knew it all. She did everything right. She just didn't have a shot.

KING: No. And she heard about a puppy, right? RUNNION: Yes. And she even had the composure to tell Sarah to go tell my Grandma as he is carrying her. And she's a very strong kid.

KING: Who calls you? You were at work. Who called you?

RUNNION: My mother. My mother called me.

KING: Did you come home alone?


KING: How far from where you worked to where you live?

RUNNION: About 20 minutes.

KING: How did do you that? We find strength in strange places.

RUNNION: Exactly. Exactly. I was basically just screaming please, please, please the whole way and trying to keep my eyes focused and not crash.

KING: Prior to all of this, when we were learning about the Smart case in Utah, would you discuss that with friends? Did you say, I wonder what happened to that girl? Did you ever think anything could happen like that with you?

RUNNION: I never thought anything -- no, nobody ever thinks that can happen to them.

KING: It's never going to happen to me.

RUNNION: No, no. It's so rare. And I do hope that people start -- realize that Elizabeth is still out there. We still need to find her. And there's a chance. She has a chance...

KING: They need closure, don't they?

RUNNION: Absolutely. I can't imagine having still that unknowing, I can't imagine.

KING: All right. Let's get into what we should know about what we should do now about children. We're going to (UNINTELLIGIBLE). What do we know now that we didn't know? What are you saying to parents?

RUNNION: Well, I think, first of all, I think I heard the Riverside district attorney's office, the DA was saying that he has to live with this for the rest of his life because of the acquittal. And he doesn't have to live with this. He did the best job he could.

KING: In the previous trial...

RUNNION: In the previous trial.

KING: ... that this guy was on the street? RUNNION: Absolutely.

KING: So you don't blame him?

RUNNION: No, I blame every juror who let him go, every juror who sat on that trial and believed this man over those little girls, I will never understand. And that is why he was out. And that is why his sickness was allowed to do this.

KING: You got the details of that trial.

RUNNION: I haven't even read the details.

KING: Now what it -- they didn't buy the statements of the kids?

RUNNION: Apparently not. Apparently not. And in California, that's all you have to do, is believe the kid.

KING: Samantha's little friend may have to testify.

RUNNION: Maybe. Maybe.

KING: That's not going to be easy.

RUNNION: No. I don't know anything about that.

KING: So, your anger is at the jury for letting him out?

RUNNION: Yes. Yes.

KING: So you want, somehow, the systems changed. We don't know the details of the trial.

RUNNION: No. I want people to realize that, you know, you're talking about children. You know, we have preconceived notions of little girls and how they might put themselves in this situation and -- these are kids. These are kids. They don't lie about this sort of thing. You know? And...

KING: Kids are good eyewitnesses to events is what you're saying, maybe better than adults.

RUNNION: Yes, they are. They are. They are terribly honest. They are brutally honest. We all know that from all of our little kids saying embarrassing things to people. They don't lie unless they're taught to.

KING: They have imaginations, right?

RUNNION: They have imaginations, absolutely.

KING: They imagine friends that aren't there and they go fight enemies that aren't around and they think about being in beauty contests if they're little girls...

RUNNION: But they don't think about having horrible things happen to them.

KING: But if they tell you that was the man that was at the fence, that was the man who was at the fence?


KING: We'll be right back with Erin Runnion on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


SHERIFF MICHAEL CARONA, ORANGE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: We didn't realize it at the time, but Samantha was 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: That was the chorus singing "Cielito Lindo," which has always been one of my favorite songs. What -- how did it relate to this occasion?

RUNNION: I've always loved the song. I remember singing it in chorus when I was a little girl. And I actually would sing it occasionally. And the woman that I worked with, a dear friend, is from El Salvador, and she actually helped me out, because I never could remember the second verse.

KING: All you know is ay, ay ay.

RUNNION: Canta no llores. So she taught me the rest of the song and described the Cielito Lindo and from that time on I started calling all of my children Cielito Lindo. And...

KING: So the two stepchildren.


KING: And Samantha you called Cielito Lindo.


KING: Did they like it?

RUNNION: Yes, they like any term of endearment.

KING: What should parents do? What -- did you learn anything from this that could have prevented that, other than board them up in the house? What could -- what should parents do -- no one is more victimized than you.

RUNNION: I don't think there's a way to prevent this. You have to let your children be the people that they are, and there's no sense in boarding them up. That doesn't make any sense. That's no life. But what they can do is children who are molested, trust the system to get them help immediately. Because they have to have that evidence. They have to.

KING: Listen to the children.

RUNNION: Listen to your children.

KING: Children will be molested.

RUNNION: Absolutely. Unfortunately.

KING: The molester is -- weighs more, has power.

RUNNION: The illness is out there, yes.

KING: And children are innocent.

RUNNION: And as painful as it is to put your child through that, the more painful to know that he's still out there. You have to do everything you can to get them off of the streets. You have to.

KING: Do you tell a child not to go to a stranger? Is that a firm rule, or is that some think a bad rule because you change the child's personality?

RUNNION: Right. Well, you know, that's something that is so hard. You know, I told Samantha that a stranger is somebody whose name you don't know. That you have to be aware, you have you to be alert. If anybody tries to come near you, you run. She had all the warning signs. She knew what to do. But she was friendly, and maybe too friendly. But I -- the thousands and thousands of people who are writing to us who are sending us cards are strangers. You know?

KING: Yes. And strangers can be nice.

RUNNION: Yes. And I believe in the power of people's love and compassion and I do believe that my faith is strong and I believe that nothing happens for no reason. And the fact that all of these people are out, coming out, and have been touched by her, they're giving her purpose. They're giving this some reason.

KING: You're saying her death may have...

RUNNION: May save some lives, that's what I'm saying. That it has to save lives. That's the only reason that this could happen. That the previous victims get to sleep better at night because he's gone. And just the knowledge that nobody else will be hurt by him.

KING: Don't you bang your fists and say why?

RUNNION: Yes, of course. Of course. KING: Do you sleep?

RUNNION: Barely. Barely. I try, and every day is better. Every day is better.

KING: It is?

RUNNION: The busyness of all this. We had the quietness, the three days before they found him, but when we knew she was gone. We had those three days to grieve. And then once they found him, it was just an enormous relief.

KING: How have the two other children taken it? How have they acted?

RUNNION: Oh, that's hard. That's hard. They -- our older daughter is just destroyed by it. She's wracked with all kinds of feelings of...

KING: Guilt?

RUNNION: Guilt and love and sadness and anger. She feels very angry. And Conner is sad, just so sad. He wrote her a note that says, I wish -- I'm so sad that we can't play together anymore. And he wanted to send it to her in the wind. So he understands that she's gone. He does.

KING: How about Grandma?

RUNNION: Grandma has her good days and her bad days. No good days. No good days. She has her bad days.

KING: Does she ever blame herself?

RUNNION: I think my mom's too smart for that. I think so.

KING: She couldn't have prevented it?

RUNNION: No, no.

KING: And how about your significant other?


KING: How has Ken dealt with it?

RUNNION: He's devastated. He's devastated.

KING: He loved Samantha?

RUNNION: Oh, he was the best dad to her. I thank him every day for being such a wonderful dad to her.

KING: Are you going to marry? It's none of my business.

RUNNION: We had planned on it for the last four years. Just busy days.

KING: If the father had shown disinterest, would Ken have adopted Samantha?

RUNNION: Oh, I'm sure.

KING: Was it that much of a love?

RUNNION: Oh, yes.

KING: So how are they going to deal with this? Have you had a psychologist work with the kids?

RUNNION: No, we have not.

KING: Thinking about it?

RUNNION: We removed them from the home so that they wouldn't -- they've been with their grandparents and...

KING: Out of town?

RUNNION: Yes, just a little bit away. They come by almost every day.

KING: Oh, in California?

RUNNION: Yes, they're in California.

KING: How about friends, neighbors?

RUNNION: Well, they took the vigil down the other day outside the house so that things could get back to normal. And I have to tell you, I just had to cry when I walked out there and they're all out there playing again. It was nice. It was very...

KING: You were glad to see it?

RUNNION: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

KING: Kids playing, normalcy.

RUNNION: One of the things that this has done is, half of this complex lived at our house almost every day. We had 10 kids at our house almost all day every day. They all knew Mantha. And they're all terrified to talk to us and everything. But I walked out there and they came up to me on their bikes, and they're giving me hugs and asking where she is and how do you help a baby through this?

KING: But there will never be normalcy again for you?


KING: Or them. It will stay, especially that friend.

RUNNION: Yes. KING: What's her name again?


KING: How's her parents dealing with it?

RUNNION: Her parents are so sweet.

KING: Are they?

RUNNION: They are so sweet. Very strong. They came over and gave us hugs.

KING: When we come back, I'm going to ask Erin about law enforcement and this sheriff, who, by the way, is winging his way to Washington to meet with President Bush tomorrow. We'll be right back.


RUNNION: We are overwhelmed by the love people have shown Samantha -- excuse me. And that is why we felt compelled to share this memorial with everyone whose heart has been touched by her death.

Ken and I were truly honored to be her parents. We always knew she had a gift for the world, but it never occurred to us that her greatness would be realized in her death.




CARONA: She was a little girl. Little girls aren't supposed to die. Little girls aren't supposed to die the way Samantha died.


KING: Our guest is Erin Runnion. You called her Mantha, is that what you called her?


KING: What do you make of our sheriff friend, Mr. Caruso (sic).

RUNNION: Mike Carona is an amazing...

KING: Carona. I always keep saying Caruso.


KING: An amazing guy.

RUNNION: Amazing guy.

What do I thing of him? I think he did the most amazing job I've ever seen.

KING: You know, he cried for your daughter.

RUNNION: Oh, I know he did. He did. He promised -- he made promises and he kept them, every last one of them, including finding her before her birthday, which...

KING: He said that -- before her birthday?

RUNNION: Oh, yes. And that sent terror through every police officer out there, I'm sure. But they did it.

KING: What was your first meeting with him like?

RUNNION: Oh, my first meeting with him...

KING: She was missing. Did you go to his office?

RUNNION: Yes, we went to his office and he introduced us to the mayor of Stanton, the mayor of Garden Grove.

KING: Could you tell he was special?

RUNNION: Yes, I could.

KING: There's a quality about him.

RUNNION: Yes, I could. He had some Japanese Zen master-type things going on, I don't know what they were.

But I just thought, his posture, his composure, and just the passion with which he spoke, I knew that he was not treating this as some ran -- you know, anything small.

KING: Another day, another case.

RUNNION: He was dedicating himself to that, and he made that clear.

KING: He was. It almost became like she was his child almost. I mean, he really got wrapped up in this, and to your benefit.

You were telling me during...

RUNNION: I had absolute confidence in him from the time I met him.

KING: We were talking about the strength of mothers. And you were telling us during the break how you were out looking the first night, looking for Samantha. Tell me that again.

RUNNION: Well, I'm sure that anybody who imagines that this would happen, you know you can't sit there. You know, they want you to sit there and not hurt yourself, but you have -- I had to go out and look.

And luckily they were looking so hard they didn't realize that I was.

KING: So you walked by yourself?


KING: Down the street?

RUNNION: Yes. I went to where her school was, because that was my instant thought, was maybe it was someone from the neighborhood. I just felt compelled to go that way, I don't know why. Went up by her school, and was just walking in the street looking, pounding on trunks and...

KING: Anything?

RUNNION: Anything, anything, and listening for her. And in my state, I heard her cry "mommy."

And a car happened to come in front of me at that exact moment. And he was driving slowly, thank goodness. And I jumped on the hood of his car. I shook like this, and he wouldn't stop, and so I jumped on the hood of his car. And I grabbed the rear-view -- the side mirror and pounded on his window. And I was holding her picture. And he stopped.

And I opened his door and asked him to open his trunk, and he drove away. But it wasn't him.

And I'm sorry to that man, because I terrified him.

KING: The voice was an imagined voice.

RUNNION: Yes, I'm sure. I'm sure.

KING: Was there a period of -- I keep hearing this in death -- of denial? Where people who have death faced in their life, either told they're going to die, not accepting that fact, or when they have a death of a loved one.

RUNNION: I didn't really.

KING: No, you're a realist?

RUNNION: I think because of the night that it happened, that I felt her go was in the middle of the night. And we were still working on hanging posters up. And I continued doing that. But I think when later that day they found her, suddenly I realized that I was right, you know.

And there was -- I just don't understand why they kill them. I'll never understand that.

KING: It's hard to understand why a predator does what a predator does anyway.

RUNNION: That's all I could say was, why do they hurt them? Why do they -- you know, if you're sick, you're sick, but why do you have to hurt them, you know? To take your own illness out, to not realize how sick -- what a sickness it is and to hurt children, to realize that this is your problem, not a baby's. That these are human beings who have histories, that have personalities, that have potential that you can never imagine.

To take that away to feed your need, it's an unbelievable selfishness. It's unbelievable.

KING: It is almost impossible to have compassion for it, right? You might say they're sick.

Did you watch his mother on television, the accused?

RUNNION: No, no.

KING: You can't have...

RUNNION: I will not. Like I said, I don't even want...

KING: To go near it?

RUNNION: Right. I think part of the way that he did this feels like that. I don't want to make him a movie star. If that is part of his motive, I don't want to let that happen.

KING: Over the years you've watched, I'm sure -- I know you said you watched me since you were a kid, which makes me feel old. As a teenager you used to watch me?

RUNNION: You educated me throughout the Gulf War.

KING: Oh, thank you.

You watched the John Walshes and the others, parents who've lost over the years. Did you feel with them? Do you feel with them much more now?

RUNNION: Oh, yes, I do.

KING: Going to get involved, do you think?

RUNNION: In some way or -- I have to. I have to. You have to. You have to do everything you can to save every other kid out there.

KING: We'll be back with some more moments with Erin Runnion right after this.








KING: That's "Edel Weiss" from "Sound of Music." And the slide show -- was that Peter Pan music they were playing?

RUNNION: "You Can Fly."

KING: "You Can Fly," and that's what you're going to do tomorrow. It's a Peter Pan birthday, right?

RUNNION: Mm-hmm, and...

KING: They showed Samantha's drawings. Did she draw a lot?

RUNNION: Oh, yes. Every day, all the time. She had this virtual -- it was hard to get her to eat breakfast because she either wanted to swing or to draw.

KING: She was pretty good.

RUNNION: Yes, she was.

KING: "Runnion, mom, dad, I love you, Samantha. Conner, Paige, I love you."

RUNNION: She wrote us notes all the time, all the time. Every day, you got a note. She would write little notes that, you know, questioning you.

KING: Have you saved them?

RUNNION: Oh, yes. Yes.

KING: Are you going to keep her room or what are you going to do?

RUNNION: I don't know. I don't know how to do that.

KING: I don't know either.

RUNNION: Right now, part of my process was I've put everything that she loved on her bed. And then it actually makes it easier because I get to visit her often because every person that comes in who I know who loved her, I take them upstairs and we sit there and I take them on a tour of all of her schoolwork. And it just reminds you that every day that she was alive, she was happy. And that helps me, because she was. She lived every day to its absolute fullest.

KING: Where are you putting all the mail?

RUNNION: The city of Stanton is helping me tremendously. They're holding lots for me. We have lots to go through. But I have made a promise and I will keep it. I will read every word. What I have read -- and I always take a stack every morning, honestly, because it is, it gives me strength.

KING: Will you have some sort of foundation for Samantha? Are we going to have a...

RUNNION: We're going to have something. I don't know.

KING: ... scholarship?

RUNNION: I don't know. I can't -- in the state I'm in, there's so much to think about. But people have given a tremendous amount. And I will do something to honor that.

KING: What are you going to do personally? Are you going to go away for a while?

RUNNION: I don't know. I don't know. I haven't had time to think about personally.

KING: No plans?

RUNNION: No, no plans. Just taking it day by day.

KING: Do you think about the future? You don't think about anything, do you but...


KING: ... moment to moment.

RUNNION: Yes. Yes.

KING: Do you sit down and have a meal?

RUNNION: People make me, yes. They cut my food and tell me to eat a few bites before they'll talk to me.

KING: Because one wonders whenever one thinks of the loss of a child, is how do you go on?


KING: How do you go on, especially the brutality of it. You know, I asked Dominick Dunne last night, it is one thing if a child, car accident, people have car accidents. It is terrible. Even a disease. But at the hand of someone else. I'm amazed at you.

RUNNION: The loss is the same, though. The loss is the same. The relief is that she's not in pain anymore. That is my relief. And everybody has felt grief, and everybody has lost somebody. And however brutal, however awful the death, it's the same to the person who lost them. And I can't know the truth. Until this trial is over, will I know the details of what happened. And honestly, I just block it off.

KING: Are you going to go to the trial? If there's a trial, are you going to go? RUNNION: I don't know. I don't know. We'll see.

KING: Tough choice.

RUNNION: Yes, it's a tough choice.

KING: Some say it's a good way to have closure, to go. Some say it's just a reminder.

RUNNION: Right. Right. I will do whatever the sheriff's department, whatever the district attorney's office feels is best in order to get him to never be able to hurt anybody.

KING: In other words, they think it would help? So, they think it would help to have you there, you're there?

RUNNION: You got it.

KING: And if the prosecutor, whatever he wants to do, you're going to support whichever way he goes with it?

RUNNION: Absolutely. I trust him very much.

KING: Well, I don't know what else to say to you, Erin, except you're an amazing lady. And it would have been nice to know her.

RUNNION: She was an amazing kid. Amazing.

KING: Could have been on this show, couldn't she?

RUNNION: Oh, she would have been.

KING: Hosted it maybe. Thank you, Erin.

RUNNION: Thank you.

KING: Thank you very much. Erin Runnion. Samantha would have been 6 tomorrow. There will be a party. There will be cake. There will be Peter Pan. And there will be the spirit as well. Happy birthday.

We'll be back with more after this.



RUNNION: This has been the most awful nightmare, and your sympathy and love throughout have given my family tremendous comfort and strength. I must thank the Orange County Sheriff, the Riverside Sheriff, the FBI, the media and the public for working together and dedicating themselves to finding our daughter and her murderer so quickly. Nothing can bring our baby back, but knowing that her death was handled with the utmost integrity and her life cherished by so many does bring some solace.


KING: Our remaining moments we'll spend with Reverend Robert A. Schuller. If that name is familiar, it should be.

You know his father, who has been on this show many times. This is his first appearance. We expect many appearances with him. He officiated yesterday at the Crystal Cathedral. I guess it was interesting that she said she wanted to pick a place that would be interdenominational and have as many people as possible. That was beautiful.

REV. ROBERT A. SCHULLER, PRESIDED AT SAMANTHA'S FUNERAL: Well, we're honored she picked us.

KING: What was it like for you?

SCHULLER: It was very difficult. It's amazing how difficult it is, because if you have a child, that's what you think about, is it could have been my child. And I have four children. My oldest is 24, my youngest is 14, and it could have been any one of them.

KING: How do you, Reverend Schuller, keep your faith in the face of things like this? What tells you there's a God if this could happen to Samantha?

SCHULLER: Well, I have no doubt that there's a God. And I know that there's a God because God has given us the free will to choose, to choose love or to choose hate. And as long as we have that free will, unfortunately, there will be some people who will choose hate.

And we need to somehow control that. We control it with love, with people like Sheriff Carona and the job that he has done in corralling this vicious, evil human being immediately. And then to see the incredible amount of love that was there yesterday was just phenomenal.

KING: That must have been unbelievable.

SCHULLER: Absolutely phenomenal.

KING: Why -- we've asked your father this. You give it a try. Why do bad things happen to good people?

SCHULLER: You know, bad things happen to everybody. The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. It doesn't matter whether you're good or bad, bad things are going to happen. The truth of the matter is that we see what happens to people who are good people. Because that's the real question. What happens to good people when bad things happen to them? We look at Erin. I just sat here and listened to your interview with Erin, and it was phenomenal. It has -- what she's doing with this, she's going to do something tremendous.

KING: Yes, she is.

SCHULLER: I mean, there's no question. Do you have any question about that? KING: No. How do you explain her?

SCHULLER: How do I explain her?

KING: Boy. What strength.

SCHULLER: Yes, she's an incredible human being. I think she is -- she is experiencing the presence of prayer from thousands and thousands and thousands of people who are supporting her. I think she's experiencing the presence of God's love girding her, enabling her and giving her that ability.

KING: Do you agree with her that good can come of this?

SCHULLER: That good can come? Yes, I do. I believe, I truly believe that God can take the most wicked and evil of things and create something good out of it.

KING: Children who are watching and seeing all these events, how do you deal with them and their fears? Kids are not stupid.

SCHULLER: Right. Right. I want to reiterate what Erin said, that it would be a tragedy if the children feel like they can't go outside, if we try to lock up our children.

KING: What kind of world is that?

SCHULLER: We can't do that. We have to give them the freedom to go out and to play. And the fact, the reality is that every day is a gift from God. Today and every moment is a gift from God. And we never know when our moment is going to end. So we have to live in the present. We can't worry about the history, we can't worry about the future, we have to just simply live in the present, because that's all we really have.

KING: I notice you hugging her and bringing that kind of comfort, and you're a young man getting started now in the world of pastoring, right?

I mean, well, you've been in it for a while.

SCHULLER: Well, I've been in it actually for almost 22 years.

KING: Yes, but you look like you're 11 years old. Is that the toughest part?

SCHULLER: What's that?

KING: Administering grief? Administering to the grief stricken?

SCHULLER: I don't think it's tough. It's like -- you know, I asked you how did you do this interview? You said, oh, it's tough. Well, it's not the application isn't tough. It's the emotions that's tough. The same thing.

KING: The doing isn't tough. SCHULLER: Exactly. The doing isn't difficult. It's the feeling, and trust me, I feel it. Sheriff Carona felt it. What nobody else saw was that when Sheriff Carona received his standing ovation, he turned around and he placed his hands on the podium and he wept uncontrollably. Nobody could see that. I could see that from where I was. And that's what drove me out of my chair to embrace him and to comfort him.

It's just a natural reaction, human reaction.

KING: You have a very special father, you have a very special (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We look forward to many visits.

SCHULLER: Well, thank you, thank you, Larry.

KING: Reverend Robert A. Schuller, the co-pastor of the Crystal Cathedral. When we come back we'll tell you about tomorrow night's LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.





KING: Tomorrow night, Art Linkletter, the veteran entertainer, reporter, radio and television artist turns 90, and what a lot of memories. Art Linkletter tomorrow night.

NEWSNIGHT is next with Aaron Brown in New York.




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