FARMINGTON — A group of women gathered Thursday in a sunny room at the Oakridge Country Club for a luncheon to celebrate their best year of fundraising yet.
The money they raised — and have repeatedly raised in the past five years — almost single-handedly comprises the funds used for the state's Amber Alert program.
"I love our children and I know you love our children and I'm amazed at what a group of determined women can accomplish, though I shouldn't be surprised," Utah Attorney General John Swallow said as he accepted a check for more than $16,000 from the Davis Chamber of Commerce Women in Business.
"It's all about messages, and this helps us get the message out that we will work to keep children in Utah safe," he said. "Just as a snowball rolling downhill piles up speed and size; that is what this will do."
Jim Smith, president and CEO of the Davis Chamber of Commerce, said the fundraising effort has become part of the group's identity. Though they had originally intended to rotate the beneficiary charity every year, they keep coming back to Amber Alert because of one "very compelling" member — Elaine Runyan-Simmons.
"It's a legacy I leave for my daughter," she said of her commitment to see the Amber Alert implemented and sustained in Utah. "If there was something still in place like this back then, maybe we'd still have her."
Runyan-Simmons' daughter, Rachael, was 3 years old when she was abducted from a Sunset playground just 50 feet from her home back in 1982. Her body was found in a stream north of Mountain Green about a month later.
She said it was difficult to spread the word then, as they printed posters and flyers and spent about $10,000 on postage in just three weeks' time. She still wonders what might have been if the reach of an Amber Alert system had been available then.
It's what motivated her to push for the system, originally named the Rachael Alert in Utah, and what propels her to continue forward.
"After we found her and after her funeral, we began speaking out," Runyan-Simmons said. "I have children and grandchildren now. I want them to play in safety without having to go through what our daughter did."
Paul Murphy, spokesman for the Utah Attorney General's Office, said the Amber Alert notification does not cost money.
"Our budget is zero unless money comes in," he said. "We have this fund and we use it when we need to. … They expand our scope."
He said they are hoping to use the money donated Thursday to pay for training for law enforcement, as well as printing posters that will provide information for law enforcement and the media about Amber Alerts and when and how they are issued.
Murphy helped develop the Amber Alert and is currently its state coordinator. The nation took note of the system — then called the "Rachael Alert" — after the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart in 2002, he said.
Until that point, less than a dozen states in the nation had a similar alert system, Murphy said. Still, it had saved 16 children nationwide.
When Smart was found, her father, Ed Smart, called for a national alert for kidnapped and endangered children. To date, Murphy said, the Amber Alert has led to the safe return of 600 children across the country.
"Elaine is the person who inspires me to work harder and do more," Murphy said.
Runyan-Simmons just wants to ensure that no parent and no child have to endure what her family and her daughter went through. She said the girl was a "perfect child" who was loved and adored by all who knew her.
She was quiet and sweet. "Always a doll." And the pain of losing her persists 30 years later.
"It was a horrible ordeal and it will never go away," Runyan-Simmons said. "This is something I can do to fight that."
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