Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Lost Boy


One key witness missing from Parnell's 2004 trial was Steven Stayner himself. On an afternoon in September 1989, Steven was motorcycling home to his wife and two young children after a hard day's work. He may have briefly seen the car speed out of a driveway and onto the road in front of him, but he didn't have enough time to stop or swerve. Steven, who wasn't wearing a helmet, slammed into the car and was pronounced dead upon arrival at a local hospital.

But death could not stop Steven's remarkable story from living.

Video cover: I Know My First Name is Steven
Video cover: I Know My First
Name is Steven
In the same year as his death, a TV movie based on his ordeal was broadcast (in which Steven himself made a "blink and you'll miss it" appearance as a policeman). It was nominated for several Emmy Awards.

During his life, Steven was active in telling school kids about the dangers of strangers and educating parents on how to protect their children.

In an interview with the Sun-Star, Steven said he would remain involved in the cause of missing children "to protect our children. [And] it also helps me deal with the seven years I was gone by allowing me to talk about it."

Merced councilman later told the same newspaper that Steven had spoken often at local schools "to get the kids to understand why they had to be aware and what could happen."

Steven's story also was revisited briefly in the media in 1999, this time as a sidebar to the larger story of the conviction of his elder brother Cary for four murders in Yosemite Park.

More than 10 years after Steven's death, the City of Merced asked locals to suggest names for city parks to honor some of Merced's notable citizens. Steven's parents suggested that one of the parks be named in Steven's honor. His mother told the Sun-Star that it would be "a positive thing for kids" because her son had survived "an extraordinary experience and came through it OK."

The City Council initially agreed that Steven would receive the honor, but the Sun-Star soon reported that some locals were concerned that people now primarily associated the name "Stayner" with Cary, and not with Steven.

Over the ensuing months, supporters and opponents of naming the park for Steven debated in City Council meetings and in letters to the editor. Compromises such "Steven's Park" were suggested and rejected. Steven's children wrote a letter to the editor of the Sun-Star stating that their father was unquestionably worthy of the honor of being the park's namesake.

Eventually, however, the park was named after another Merced resident.

But supporters who wanted to pay tribute to Steven's memory were not deterred, and there is currently an effort to create a large statue portraying Steven leading a young Timmy White to safety – to be installed in a prominent place in Merced.

Steven Stayner's legacy continues. His reappearance after seven years may give hope to families also traumatized by a missing child. Nobody knows how his community service of speaking to kids and parents may have prevented kidnappings similar to his own.

But his single act of bravery on a dark night in the early spring of 1980 will define the term "hero" for many years to come.

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