Hundreds run to honor and support crime survivors

By Lou Ponsi

Nearly 15 years after experiencing the unimaginable loss of her daughter, Erin Runnion continues to be an agent for healing.

Runnion’s daughter, Samantha, 5, was kidnapped from the front yard of her home in Stanton on July 15, 2002. A day later, her child’s body was found near a trail in the Cleveland National Forest.

On Saturday, Runnion stood on a stage at Mason Park in Irvine and encouraged more than 500 people – including dozens of crime survivors standing in front of her – to channel their emotions towards making a difference.

“To the world, we may just be one person, but to one person, particularly a person in trauma, you may be the world,” said Runnion, speaking at the 13th Survive & Thrive 5K Run/Walk and Safety Expo.

Runners cross the starting line for the Survive and Thrive Run Walk Health & Safety Expo at Mason Regional Park, Irvine. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Runnion herself has never stopped fighting on behalf of children. She started the Joyful Child Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for the prevention of child sex abuse and abduction.

Survive & Thrive serves as a fundraiser and vehicle to raise awareness for issues impacting crime victims.

Nine-year-old Aniessa Medina of Anaheim releases a dove during opening ceremonies of the Survive and Thrive Run Walk Health & Safety Expo at Mason Regional Park, Irvine. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Family members, friends and survivors of about 65 violent crimes – along with hundreds of police officers and recruits – participated in the 5K, many wearing T-shirts bearing the name of their lost loved ones.

They released white doves, a symbolic gesture meant to honor their spirit.

Survivors release doves in memory of their loved ones during opening ceremonies of the Survive and Thrive Run Walk Health & Safety Expo at Mason Regional Park, Irvine. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Several victims advocacy groups and service providers were on hand, including the state’s Department of Corrections, groups that fight human trafficking, spousal abuse and child abuse and drug treatment centers.

Along with Runnion, speakers included Paul Wilson, whose wife Christy was among eight people killed in a mass shooting at Salon Meritage in Seal Beach on Oct. 12, 2011, and Jack Reilley, whose 23-year old daughter Robbin Brandley was stabbed to death in a parking lot at Saddleback College in January 1986 – and her alleged killer has yet to be tried. Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes, Irvine Police Chief Mike Hamel, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Cmdr. Steve Katz, LAPD Capt. Al Labrada, Supervisor Todd Spitzer and Assemblyman Steven Choi also spoke.

OC Supervisor Todd Spitzer stands with family survivors of violent crimes that include Erin Runnion, left, Paul Wilson and Jack Reilley as Reilley gets ready to release a dove during the opening ceremony of the Survive and Thrive Run Walk Health & Safety Expo at Mason Regional Park, Irvine. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Reilly and his wife Genelle continue to advocate for victims’ rights.

The event is organized by Patricia Wenskunas, herself a survivor of a brutal attack in her home on April 4, 2002.

Shirts, each with a personal message honoring survivors of violent crimes, were displayed for visitors to see during the Survive and Thrive Run Walk Health & Safety Expo. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Wenskunas founded Crime Survivors, a victims’ advocacy nonprofit that provides case managers, legal help and other resources.

“(Victims) are surviving and thriving because of your respect and passion,” Wenskunas said. “We need a voice in this victims’ movement.”

Public safety agencies at Survive & Thrive included the Orange County and Los Angeles sheriff’s departments, Irvine, Tustin, Santa Ana, Los Angeles and Anaheim police departments and the Orange County Fire Authority.

OCSD Undersheriff Don Barnes talks addresses those gathered at the start of the Survive and Thrive Run Walk Health & Safety Expo at Mason Regional Park, Irvine. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Barnes decried the legal system for what he said was a lack of support for crime victims.

“It’s a very sad reflection of our judicial system where the victims of crime are often put second behind the perpetrators of crime and the protection they are afforded,” Barnes said.

Cadets from Orange County Sheriff’s Academy Class 224 run together during the Survive and Thrive Run Walk Health & Safety Expo at Mason Regional Park in Irvine. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Runnion praised OCSD for their support in the days, weeks and months following the tragedy.

“Those interpersonal relationships with us and the law enforcement officers involved in her investigation really made it so that as a family, we could focus on the grief of losing Samantha and figure out how we were going to honor her,” Runnion said.

Cadets from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Academy Class of 420 and 421 stand with other law enforcement cadets from OCSD as families of victims tell their stories before the start of the Survive and Thrive Run Walk Health & Safety Expo at Mason Regional Park, Irvine. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

 

Cadets from Orange County Sheriff’s Academy, front, and Los Angeles Sheriff’s Academy perform a push-up tribute at the start of the Survive and Thrive Run Walk Health & Safety Expo at Mason Regional Park, Irvine. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

 

Cadets from Orange County Sheriff’s Academy Class 224 approach the finish line for the Survive and Thrive Run Walk Health & Safety Expo. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

 

To support Crime Survivors or if a victim is in need of help to contact us at www.crimesurvivors.org.