Steven Stayner Memorial Unveiled in Merced

A statue commemorating an abused teenage boy's heroic choice to protect a younger child was inaugurated this weekend in the boy's hometown of Merced.

Stayner was kidnapped by pedophile Kenneth Parnell in 1972, when he was 7 years old. He was held captive and sexually abused for seven years. When Parnell kidnapped a second boy, 5-year-old Timothy White, in 1980, Stayner decided to escape and bring the child to safety.

Stayner was hailed as a hero in the high-profile case, which landed Parnell in prison.

Parnell was paroled after serving about five years for the Stayner and White kidnappings, but sentenced to life in prison after he was caught trying to obtain another child. Parnell died in prison in 2008.

On Saturday, organizers unveiled a bronze likeness of Parnell's victims in the moment they broke free -- a teenage Stayner and the little boy, whom he is leading by the hand. They said the memorial is dedicated to all missing children.

Both Stayner and White have also died -- Stayner in 1989, and White earlier this year. Both left a wife and two children, and family members were part of the large crowd that gathered for the statue's unveiling.

White's mother, Angela Gitlin, 61, said she was still grateful for what Stayner did for her boy.

"What Steven did was bring my son home," Gitlin said. "I think it's wonderful that they are honoring him this way."

Stayner's daughter, Ashley Stayner, was also moved by the monument's inauguration, which included a bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace."

"He really inspires me every day," said Stayner, 24, looking up toward her father's sculpture. "I really aspire to be like him."

The memorial is a culmination of seven years of efforts by residents to recognize Stayner's heroism.

"It's long past due," said Elaine Freeze, chairwoman of the committee that pushed for the project.

If the name Stayner reminds you of another brutal California case. Steven's brother Cary Stayner sits on death row for the 1999 murders of three Yosemite tourists and a Yosemite naturalist.  The killings were unrelated to Steven's ordeal.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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