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Suspect Arrested in the Murder of California Girl - 2002-07-20

Police in California have arrested a suspect in the kidnap and murder of a five-year-old girl, after a massive manhunt. The arrest may relieve the fears of parents who were warned that the child's killer could strike again.

Monday, five-year-old Samantha Runnion was abducted from her housing complex near Los Angeles by a man who asked the girl and her friend to help him find his dog. The only witness was the girl's five-year-old playmate, who described the abductor and his light-green car.

Tuesday, a frantic caller reported a gruesome discovery.

"Oh my God. We've found a dead body. Please hurry."

Investigators later confirmed that the body was that of Samantha Runnion.

Armed with a composite sketch based on the description by the five-year-old neighbor, 400 officers sifted through 2,000 leads. Federal investigators examined forensic evidence. Friday, Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona made this announcement.

"At 9:55 this morning, members of the investigative team arrested Alejandro Avila, a 27-year-old male, six feet tall, 200 pounds, brown hair, brown eyes."

The killer had posed the body nude in a mountainous ravine near Lake Elsinore, the community where the suspect was later arrested. Police say the killer was taunting them and warned that he could be a serial predator who could strike again.

A makeshift shrine outside Samantha's home was filled with flowers, toys and personal messages. But one resident was not reassured by news of the arrest. She feels relief but questions whether police have the right man in custody.

Authorities have reportedly seized a computer, personal belongings and a rental car from the suspect's home. They say the investigation is continuing.