New bill to create Utah Missing and Exploited Children’s Day

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Rachael Runyan, 3, was abducted on August 26, 1982 and murdered. HB53 would name that day Rachael Runyan and Missing and Exploited Children’s Day. (Elaine Runyan)

HB53 is awaiting the governor’s signature to establish August 26 as Rachael Runyan and Missing and Exploited Children’s Day. The day’s purpose, stated in the bill, is to “encourage individuals to make child safety a priority” and stand as a reminder for continued efforts to recover missing children.

The bill was inspired by Rachael Runyan. Rachael was kidnapped from a playground in Sunset, Utah, on August 26, 1982 when she was three years old. Her body was found 24 days later in a creek bed near Trapper’s Loop Road in Morgan, Utah.

After the incident, Rachael’s mother Elaine became an advocate in the movement to recover missing children.

“The pain was horrific, and I couldn’t imagine other mothers who had gone through such a thing and did not fight back,” Runyan said. “Perhaps I could have been better informed had they done so.”

In May 2002, Utah established the Rachael Alert. The first Rachel alert went out after Elizabeth Smart’s abduction the same year. The Rachael Alert was later renamed the ‘Amber Alert,’ after a 9-year-old abductee from Texas, when the nation-wide system was implemented.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the alert is a broadcast system that begins when law enforcement informs broadcasters of an abduction. Broadcasters then interrupt their programs to disseminate information about the child and abductor so the public can be on alert and help find the victims.

August 26 is one of two days when the Amber Alert is tested and will hopefully become the new Missing and Exploited Children’s Day.

Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Davis, sponsored the bill. At the time of Rachael’s abduction, Handy was a young father raising his children nearby.

Davis has been working with Rachael’s mother to establish the day of recognition since her work was brought to his attention a couple years ago.

Handy said the bill honors Rachael because her case was a catalyst for the development of better responses to abduction.

“It was scary,” Handy said. “Who knows whether an Amber Alert could have saved Rachael. We’ll never know in this life.”

If HB53 passes, August 26 will “not only honor Rachael, but keep the unsolved case and the idea of missing children in front of the public,” Runyan said.

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