This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Aug. 26 was a "bittersweet" day for Elaine Runyan.
Though the weather was perfect and she was surrounded by people she loved, one person was missing.
Exactly 34 years earlier, her 3-year-old daughter, Rachael, was snatched from a park 15 feet away from their Sunset home as her 5-year-old brother, Justin, looked on helplessly. Runyan was in the house preparing sloppy Joes for lunch.
That day in 1982 was the first time that Runyan had let her children play there alone, though they were within earshot.
The abductor, observed by Justin and another 10-year-old child who was playing at the park, was described as a 6-foot tall black man between 25 and 35 years old with a mustache. He chatted with the children for at least 15 minutes, they told police, ultimately enticing Rachael away with the promise of bubble gum and ice cream.
The man and Rachael drove away in a four-door, dark-blue car with wood-grain stripes on the side. No adults were at the park to provide a description.
"She had never been hurt or spanked or anything," Runyan said of her daughter. "She was just nothing but loved, this little beautiful blue-eyed blond gal, this child. She just had no idea someone would hurt her."
Rachael's hardly recognizable body was found Sept. 19, 1982, in a Morgan County stream. She was naked and her hands and feet had been tied together.
"It changed the course of our lives," Runyan said. "It changed how each member of our family looked at everything, looked at life. Just the reality of a family member being taken out of your home and then never to see them again, to try and live without them. It's not like grandpa lived to 80 and died. It's like a 3-year-old child that had no disease, was not sick, and literally was stolen right out of our clutches."
Because of the nightmare she and her family lived through, Runyan has worked to advocate for missing children and their families.
She said she is working with the current Utah Legislature to officially designate Aug. 26 as Rachael Runyan Day.
Additionally, on the anniversary of Rachael's abduction this year, Runyan and her family renamed South Park, from where her child disappeared, Rachael Runyan Memorial Park.
The idea to rename the park, located at 200 W. 975 North in Sunset, came from Allen Glines, who lives near Ogden. He had never met the Runyans, but heard Rachael's story on the old true-crime series TV show, "Unsolved Mysteries."
Curiosity drove him to research the case, and when he saw it was unsolved, he wanted to find a way that would get people talking about it again.
He gained approval from officials from Sunset, Davis School District, which has a school adjacent to the park, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose parking lot borders the park and Elaine Runyan did the rest.
Though the process was time-consuming for Runyan, even with the help of a small committee and other advocates like Ed Smart whose own 14-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Smart, was abducted and found alive nine months later she said everything the day of the ribbon-cutting was "flawless."
There were several safety education booths set up at the event, Runyan said, and the family released 34 purple balloons one for each year they've lived without Rachael.
"It's a remembering. It's an honoring," Runyan said in a recent interview. "We still miss our child who was kidnapped by some unknown person, and we've had to live with this. And, you know, you're never gonna quit loving your child. We like to keep her memory alive and leave a legacy with her name on it."
The family also began the Rachael Runyan Motorcycle Run, which will fall on the Saturday closest to Aug. 26 each year. The event will benefit the Amber Alert program formerly known in Utah as the Rachael Alert.
"[For] a lot of mothers, fathers, it's so painful that they just endure the rest of their life," Runyan said, "I loved her so much, I wanted to be the voice to say we can't accept this; we can't allow this to happen. ... I knew I had the voice, and if I didn't use it and someone else was saying it, it didn't have as much impact as a mother who lived through it."
"More than anything we're just asking for a confession, someone to come forward," Runyan said. "How do you live with this for all these years? I don't know how they can breathe, you know?"
Police are still receptive of any leads, Runyan said, and she has received some tips in recent years through a Facebook page called Justice for Rachael Runyan.
Said Glines: "The thing that always bothers me when I talk to people about this case is that they say, 'Well, it happened 34 years ago. If it hasn't been solved yet, it's never going to be solved.' And that's just kind of a thought process that people need to break themselves of, because my opinion when you look at cases like these, it's not a matter of when it happened, but that it happened. And the fact that it happened and it's still unsolved, whoever did it is out there. That should make it a more pressing concern that we all focus our energies and figure out who did it and get them off the street."
While Runyan's family is grateful that they found Rachael, "ultimate closure" won't come with until her killer is brought to justice, they said.