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Saturday, 20 July, 2002, 03:37 GMT 04:37 UK
Man faces child murder charges
Neighbours pay respects at a memorial to Samantha Runnion in Stanton, California
The local community has been devastated by the killing
US authorities are to charge a 27-year-old man with the kidnapping and murder of a five-year-old girl in California.

Alejandro Avila
Avila was reportedly arrested following a tip-off from his ex-girlfriend

Alejandro Avila, a factory worker, was arrested on Friday after a three-day manhunt.

Samantha Runnion was dragged from the driveway of her apartment complex in the Orange County suburb of Stanton in front of a friend on Monday evening by a man pretending that he had lost his puppy.

Her naked body was found a day later on the side of a road near Cleveland National Forest, 80 kilometres (50 miles) away from Stanton, by a passer-by.

She had been sexually assaulted and then suffocated a few hours after her abduction.

Manhunt

Local media reports said Mr Avila was taken into custody following a tip-off from his ex-girlfriend, who had accused him of molesting her daughter.

Mr Avila lives about 16km (10 miles) away from where Runnion's body was found. His home and three cars have been searched by police.

Authorities had mounted a state-wide hunt for the young girl shortly after her abduction, with several suspects detained and then released.

Mr Avila's mother told journalists that her son was innocent and did not have a criminal record.

High-profile cases

Runnion's kidnap and murder is the third high-profile case involving young girls to hit the US this year, causing much soul searching in the nation.

In February, seven-year-old Danielle van Dam went missing from her home in San Diego, California.

Her body was found three weeks later, and her neighbour, 50-year-old David Westerfield, is currently on trial for her kidnapping and murder.

And in June, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was reportedly taken from her home in Salt Lake City, Utah at gunpoint while her younger sister watched in horror.

She has still not been found.

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