Erin Runnion thought her 5-year-old daughter, Samantha, could be an easy target for a kidnapper and played out possible scenarios with her in case the young girl was ever approached by a stranger.
Now, Runnion perhaps wonders why the role-playing drills weren't enough to protect her daughter.
Samatha was abducted Monday evening kicking and screaming from her Stanton townhome complex by a man who lured her toward him by saying he needed help finding his dog. The man grabbed the girl and drove away in a light green car.
Her body found Tuesday in a rugged, heavily forested area on the edge of the Cleveland National Forest.
Runnion had held out hope Tuesday her daughter would be home in time for her sixth birthday next week.
"These things just never seem to have happy endings. And I want her to change that," Runnion told the Los Angeles Times. "She's a little fighter. And I just keep thinking, if she gets the opportunity, she'll take it."
Runnion, 27, spent most of Monday night walking and driving around her neighborhood, posting fliers and searching for Samantha. When she saw a light green Honda, which fit the description of the kidnapper's car, she jumped on the hood and asked the driver to open his trunk. He drove away.
"I heard her in my head, screaming out to me, 'Mommy!' And I jumped on his car," she said. She later realized the car was not connected to the crime.
Samantha's family said they moved from nearby Garden Grove to Stanton a year ago because they wanted a safer environment for their three children, one where they could play outside without fear. She worried that her daughter could be targeted.
"She's cute, and it always did scare me ... I used to worry about that kind of thing more in Garden Grove, where there was a halfway house down the street," Runnion said. "I had to explain why she couldn't play in the frontyard."
Runnion, who studied Latin American culture, affectionately called her daughter "Mantha" and "tigrita," translated in English as "my little tiger." She said her child aspired to be a dancer and recently wanted to resume ballet lessons she had taken until recently.
Samantha's room is adorned with a poster of her favorite character, the Greek hero Hercules. Runnion recalls her daughter saying if she was ever approached by a stranger she would be able to get away because "she could run really fast and was as strong as Hercules."