Once in a while Elaine Runyan sifts through the "Rachael" boxes in her basement and gazes at frilly little dresses that belonged to her daughter.
She wonders if Rachael's teeth would have come in straight, if she would have liked jeans or dresses and how she would have worn her hair.But she knows she'll never find out because in August 1982 the 3-year-old was kidnapped from a Sunset playground and murdered, and Elaine Runyan's life and that of her family was forever changed.
Since then, Runyan has shared her experience in dozens of church and community programs to help others learn from it, and "to try to find some good that's come out of it."
She says it's a way to help repay the hundreds of people who passed out fliers, combed the neighborhoods and offered prayers and support while Rachael was missing.
"I started doing it because people asked me to talk and wanted to hear about it," she said. "But looking back, I guess it's been a kind of therapy."
Her speaking credits include local Mormon Church gatherings, PTA safety fairs, Weber State University psychology classes and a national Jaycees convention.
Last month she appeared at a Mormon fireside in Salt Lake with the singing group "Cambridge." Using themes about triumphing over tragedy, she tries to help people put their troubles in perspective or realize the value of their children.
"People come up to me and say, `I'm never going to worry about money again; that's nothing compared to losing my kids,' " she said.
Her talks begin with a description of a hot summer morning, when Rachael and her two brothers were building sand castles under the slide at the Doxey Elementary School"The good is in drawing close to God for his strength, and that people care about one another," said Elaine Runyan. "When people have tragedies, if we support one another, what a strength we can be."
playground next to their home.
Runyan spoke several times to her children from her kitchen window, not realizing someone else was sitting on the slide out of her view.
Five minutes later, Rachael was gone, leaving only a colorful little box behind in the sand.
The most devastating part, she said, were the 24 days before Rachael's body was found near Morgan.
"There's nothing worse, I don't care if it's bills or a sick child," she said. "If your child is sick you can hold her and feed her chicken soup. But it was out of our hands; we had no control whatsoever."
Hundreds helped search and showered the family with cards, food and other support. She and her husband, Jeff, appealed for help through both local and national media.
"Here you're experiencing the worst hours of your life and you've got the cameras, microphones and questions," she said. "You just know your heart is breaking and your arms are empty."
The case has never been solved, despite the many newspaper stories and spots on TV programs such as "Unsolved Mysteries," "Real People," and a national PTA film.
"It's hard that someone has gotten away with such a horrendous crime," she said. "We have to live with it year after year, while a guy who altered your life forever goes free."
Runyan also wrote a yet-to-be published book to help her deal with her feelings. The story, which won a 1987 Utah League of Writers' first place award, was a struggle with reality.
"I kept trying to change it - the day, the time, or that I didn't let the kids go outside," she said. "But I kept coming back to the same ending."
Runyan says she copes with the tragedy by seeking out any positive results.
"The good is in drawing close to God for his strength, and that people care about one another," she said. "When people have tragedies, if we support one another, what a strength we can be."