SUNSET, Utah -- A memorial service was held Saturday to mark the 35th anniversary of the abduction and murder of Rachael Runyan.
The 3-year-old girl was kidnapped at a park near her home in Sunset on August 26, 1982, by a man who promised her bubble gum and ice cream.
The tragic death propelled Rachael’s mother Elaine into becoming a lifetime advocate for missing and abducted children.
“It wasn’t my chosen mission,” said Elaine Runyan. “I was kind of forced into it because I lost my daughter and learned so much about kidnapping and missing children and how big a deal it was across the country.”
Utah Representative Steve Handy, R-Layton, had three small children and was living in Davis County when Rachael was taken.
“When this horrific thing happened, school was starting, parents were freaked out and there was no internet, there was TV and newspaper but no social media,” Handy said.
Handy sponsored legislation this year to make August 26 Rachael Runyan Missing and Exploited Children Day in Utah. He also took part in Saturday's memorial service for Rachael and said he hopes this day can be used to educate the public about the tools that are now available to help recover abducted children.
“All these families in the park here are oblivious to this, but they ought to know about it that there is an effort to protect children,” Handy said.
Utah’s child abduction alert system was originally called the Rachael Alert after Rachael Runyan. The alert was first used when Elizabeth Smart was abducted on June 2, 2002. Smart’s abduction raised international awareness about missing children and sparked every state in the nation to start an AMBER Alert program.
Utah’s AMBER Alert program is also tested every year on August 26 to raise awareness about Rachael and other abducted children.
“Because Rachael paid the ultimate price, there are children who are alive today because of the awareness this has brought to our children,” said Sunset Police Chief Ken Eborn.
The Sunset Police Department is working with the Utah Attorney General’s Office to see if new technology can be used to help find and prosecute Rachael’s killer.
Chief Eborn called the perpetrator a coward and wants him to know they are still planning to solve this case.
“After 35 years, you’re still hiding and we are still looking for you,” Eborn said. “We will not give up, we will not give up until we have exhausted everything on this planet that possibly can be done.”
A $50,000 reward has been offered to bring the man who killed Rachael to justice. Anyone with information is urged to contact the Sunset Police Department.