Not every story we have come across in our travels is a happy one. Some of them are downright tragic. Such was the case of Steven Stayner, a young boy from Merced, California who was kidnapped on his way home from school in 1972, at the age of seven.
For seven long years the poor child was sexually and mentally abused by a monster named Kenneth Parnell, who had a long history of crimes, including child molestation and armed robbery. For years Parnell told the boy that his parents no longer wanted him and had given him custody of Steven, that his new name was Dennis Gregory Parnell.
During at least part of that time the two lived in a cabin located just a few hundred feet from Steven’s grandfather’s residence, but he never knew it at the time. For 18 months Parnell’s girlfriend, Barbara Mathias, lived with them and took part in the sexual abuse. Meanwhile the boy’s family and law enforcement agencies had searched everywhere for him, finding no clue as to his whereabouts.
That all changed when Parnell kidnapped a five-year-old boy named Timothy White in Ukiah, California on February 14, 1980. Not able to witness the new arrival being subjected to the same abuse he had suffered for so many years, two weeks later, on March 1, 1980, Steven escaped, taking Timothy with him. Carrying Timothy on his back, they hitchhiked to Ukiah and made contact with the police. Probing his memory for his true identity, though he couldn’t remember his last name, he was able to tell officers, “I know my first name is Steven.” When asked why he had escaped and brought the boy with him, Steven told police that he did not want him to have to endure the things he had gone through for so many years.
Parnell was subsequently arrested, but due to a glitch in the law and failures on the part of the legal system, he was not charged with sexual abuse of the two boys, only kidnapping. Unbelievably, he was only sentenced to seven years, and was paroled after five. On February 9, 2004, Parnell was convicted for attempting to purchase another young boy to be his next victim. He died in 2008 of natural causes while incarcerated on those charges.
Unfortunately, Steven’s return to “normal” life was anything but normal. He had been allowed and encouraged to smoke and drink while he was with Parnell and had trouble adjusting to a home life where things like that were not permitted. Though he saw a counselor for a brief time, he did not continue. At one point his sister Cory said that he stopped going because their father didn’t feel it was necessary. He was teased at school until he dropped out and began drinking and rebelling to the point where he was kicked out of the family home.
In 1985 he married, and fathered two children. He devoted much of his time to teaching children about personal safety and speaking to groups about child abduction and sexual abuse. He was working in a pizza parlor when he was killed in a motorcycle accident on September 16, 1989. He was 24 years old. Over 500 people attended his funeral, including Timothy White, the boy he had rescued, who was then 14 and served as one of his pallbearers.
Unfortunately, the string of tragedies doesn’t end there. Wanting to help other children just as he had been helped, White also spoke about child abuse and safety, and became a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy. He died from a pulmonary embolism at the age of 35 on April 1, 2010, leaving behind a wife and two young children.
In 2002, Steven’s older brother, Cary Anthony Stayner, was sentenced to death for the murders of four women in Yosemite National Park in 1999. He remains on death row in California.
Today the Steven Stayner Missing Children’s Memorial in Merced’s Applegate Park honors Steven Stayner and Timothy White. The statue depicts the two of them as they were at the time of Timothy’s rescue, and is devoted to all missing children. A book and a movie, both titled I Know My First Name Is Steven tells the story of the boy’s abduction and ordeal.
It’s Thursday and time to kick off a new Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Chesapeake 1880 by my friend Ken Rossignol, a tale of life in the Chesapeake Bay region as the industrial revolution changed the world forever. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.
Thought For The Day – The days that break you are the days that make you.