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Alejandro Avila abducted, sexually abused, and murdered 5-year-old Samantha Runnion in Stanton, CA

Mugshot of Alejandro Avila
Alejandro Avila was sentenced to die by lethal injection for the cruel murder of Samantha Runnion. Pic credit: California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Investigation Discovery profiles the chilling murder of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion by Alejandro Avila in 2002 in Orange County, California.

On July 15, 2002, Samantha Runnion was playing with a friend in her front yard in Stanton, CA., when Alejandro Avila pulled up and asked the children if they’d seen his dog.

When Samantha approached the car, Avila grabbed her and threw her into the back of his car. She reportedly kicked and screamed and shouted to her friend, “tell my grandma, tell my grandma.”

Her naked body was later found in Riverside County; she had been sexually molested and strangled. An autopsy revealed the girl had also suffered several blows to the head. She had been kept alive for a few hours before being killed.

Police received a tip to look into Alejandro Avila, who they discovered had been charged with molesting the 9-year-old daughter and cousin of his ex-girlfriend; however, a 2001 trial led to an acquittal.

Cellphone records indicated that Avila had been in Samantha’s neighborhood on the day of the murder. He had returned home to his mother’s house late that night and couldn’t account for his whereabouts.

Evidence mounts against Alejandro Avila

Investigators discovered that Avila’s bank card had been used to rent a motel room on the day of the murder; police believe Samantha was killed in that room.

DNA evidence proved to be the final straw for Avila; his DNA was found on the victim’s body, and Samantha’s DNA was found in his car.

Avila was formally charged for Samantha’s death on July 23, 2002, and in 2005 was sentenced to death. He is currently imprisoned at San Quentin State Prison in California.

More from Investigation Discovery

Follow the links to read about more murders profiled on ID.

In May 1993, three 8-year-old boys were murdered in Arkansas; they had been sexually abused, hogtied, and left to drown in a ditch. Instead of finding justice for the three boys, the authorities scape-goated three local teenage boys who were convicted in one of America’s most severe miscarriages of justice.

In New York in 1991, 4-year-old Anjelica Castillo was murdered by her cousin Conrado Juarez. The family never reported her missing so that when her remains were discovered, she was unidentified for 22-years.

Predator at Large airs Thursday, April 16, at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery.

Jerry was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, but is now based in the UK. He specializes in true crime and entertainment news stories. When... read more
Jerry Brown


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