SUNSET, Utah (ABC4 Utah) – New eyes are now investigating the murder of Rachael Runyan.
In 1982, the 3-year-old was kidnapped from a playground in Sunset and her body was later found in the mountains near Morgan.
Sunset Police Chief Ken Eborn said an agent with the Attorney General’s Office approached their department asking to investigate the case.
“Any time that happens, that’s good for us,” said chief Eborn. “We’re a small agency and we don’t have that kind of manpower.”
Since August 26, 1982, police have investigated Rachael’s murder. But to date, their investigation has not yielded a suspect.
The 3-year-old was playing with her older siblings at a school playground a few feet from the Runyon home. Her siblings watched a man take Rachael.
That moment still haunts her mother.
“Justin said Rachael’s in a car,” recalled Elaine Runyan. “What car? (He said) a blue car. (I asked) whose car? He said a black man, and I said ‘he’ll kill her, he’ll kill her.”
Back then there was no Amber Alert. She said they relied on flyers. They rang up a bill of nearly $10,000 mailing flyers all across Utah and the country.
Those pictures included Rachael and a composite of a suspect, an African American man driving in a blue car.
A person of interest was questioned but there wasn’t enough evidence.
“That person, that I believe you’re referring to continues to be looked at,” said Chief Eborn. “I have never gone public with that name.”
That person of interest had ties to Utah and New Mexico when he was first arrested in Pennsylvania in 2007. His crime in Pennsylvania triggered an Amber Alert. According to press accounts his name which has never been released is similar to the man Sunset police were investigating.
But Chief Eborn said there are others considered persons of interest that are on their list as well.
Police do have DNA evidence and the case is now in the hands of the attorney general’s cold case unit.
“They would like to give it the most recent and best testing that DNA has to offer out there,” said the chief.
Meanwhile, Elaine Runyan has turned her darkness into light.
She runs a successful insurance business in Layton and as a single parent raised her children.
“In the end, I have to give it to God,” she said. “That way I can go on.”
Nowadays, instead of passing out flyers there’s the Ambert Alert which issues warnings to the public once a child is abducted.
The idea was hatched from states like Utah where it was known as the Rachael Alert. But it was changed to the Amber Alert after federal legislation was passed.
“Now we’ve saved the lives of over 900 children,” said Runyan. “It works and I’m really proud of the legacy of the alert.”
But she has also been a voice at the State Capitol championing for children’s safety. She helped with Utah legislation to link national and state databases of missing or kidnapped children as well as increasing penalties for those convicted of the crime.
Runyan is also willing to help other families going through the same situation as she did.
“You can’t live in depths of that pain, you have to come to terms,” she said. “Hang on, it will be a rough ride. You’re not going to be able to resume your normal life for a while.”
Looking back, Runyan feels fortunate that Rachael’s body was found. She belongs to a national group called the Surviving Parents Coalition. She said many parents that she’s met are still looking for their missing child.
“It was heartbreaking but at the same time, something snapped in me that said she’s in Heaven and she’s going to be OK and no one hurt again. It truly was a miracle she was found.”
This year she would have turned 40 years old if only she had returned from the playground with her siblings. But she didn’t. And pictures of Rachael sit on Elaine’s desk where she remains a three-year-old smiling at her each day.
“I love and miss her very much,” said her mother.
There is a $50,000 reward offered through the Sunset police department for any information that leads to an arrest and conviction.
A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said their request to re-investigate the Runyan case was before a new law went into effect in July.
House bill 15 offers victims of crime a chance to have their cases reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office.