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Steven Stayner Changed My Life

As a baby boomer, Denise and millions of others are becoming senior citizens. She explores what it means to be over 60 today.

Steven Stayner, age 7

Steven Stayner, age 7

Remember Steven Stayner

Maybe you do or don’t remember the case of the kidnap victim, Steven Stayner, but I will never forget him. I was a teenager at the time living in the little sleepy town of Merced, California. Nothing really bad happened there. Sure I remember seeing stories of kidnappings on the nightly news but those kinds of things happened elsewhere, not in our little safe town.

My parents were rather strict and sagacious, even over-protective. We four had bicycles but were rarely allowed to ride them outside the driveway. I found this to be very restrictive. I was a teenager, after all. The switch came the day Mom needed some bread. She sent me to the store with a one-dollar bill on my bike and was told to bring back 4 loaves of bread and the change. I was free. The wind whipped through my hair as I peddled my way down the street to the corner store. Oh, for the freedom of those days, a bike and the open road. For several years I was sent on errands beyond the driveway and I was overjoyed.

Steven Stayner and Timothy White

Steven Stayner and Timothy White

“Childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul.”

— Dave Pelzer, A Child Called "It"

That Day In December

It was on December 4, 1972, when at the age of 7 Steven Stayner was walking home from school and never arrived there. Right away my parents were alarmed. This abduction happened less than half a mile away and just one street over from us. My siblings and I were no longer allowed out on the streets on our bikes for any reason. We were driven where we needed to go or didn’t go at all. My mother didn’t allow any extra-curricular activities like football games or school club meetings that happened after dark. I’m a parent today, so I can really understand her precaution, but back then it felt very restrictive. I was a teen and Steven Stayner was 7. It isn’t like I knew him personally even though we had gone to the same school. It was the thought that a deviant got that close to our sleepy safe community that upturned everyone’s apple cart. Our little town was suddenly and permanently on the map.

Return of Steven Stayer

Return of Steven Stayer

Steven’s Return

The years went by and the furor died down for most of us, but not for the Stayner's. What made this case so very different was that Steven came back. On March 1st, 1980, Steven waited until his abductor was at his job and helped the 5-year-old abduction victim get back to his parents. They hitchhiked to the boy’s hometown but unable to find the address, they stopped at a police station and by dawn, the next day, Merced and Steven Stayner were back in the news again. He is actually the first abduction victim to be gone so long and returned home safely.

Headlines

Headlines

“The wounded recognized the wounded.”

— Nora Roberts, Rising Tides

What Happened

Steven later told that his abductor was able to lure him into the car by claiming to be from a church looking for clothing and other donations. Later he told Steven that his parents couldn’t take care of so many children and they didn’t want him anymore so the abductor adopted him. He even had Steven calling him “dad.” But as Steven got older he wanted other younger boys. He tried to get Steven to help abduct other children but Steven thwarted those efforts until little Timothy White, age 5, was abducted. Later Steven joined an organization that sent him to schools and churches to tell his story and educate children on the ploys abductors use to lure children into their car.


The Tragedy of the Stayners

You would think that one family had enough tragedy for a lifetime with the loss of Steven. But it wasn’t to be. After Steven returned home, things weren’t rosy. The parents were caught in a time loop where they still thought of Steven as 7. When they finally started treating him his age things got better. Then the younger brother started showing signs of abnormal behavior. He was later convoked of killing 4 women in Yosemite National Park where he worked. Then on September 16th, 1989, only 9 years after he was freed, Steven sustained fatal head injuries on his way home from work, when his motorcycle collided with a car. This is too much tragedy for one family. At the funeral little Timothy White, not 16, was one of the pallbearers.


The memorial for missing children

The memorial for missing children

“A statue stands in a shaded place

An angel girl with an upturned face

A name is written on a polished rock

A broken heart that the world forgot”

— Martina Mcbride

A Tribute

The city of Merced council tried to honor Steven by naming a park after him but the majority voted against it because it was thought people would associate the name with the murderer brother instead of the young abduction hero. Finally, on August 28th, 2010 a statue of Steven and White was dedicated in Applegate Park in Merced. The people of Timothy’s town, Ukiah, raised money for the statue of a teen Steven holding the hand of a 5-year-old Timothy to honor Steven and give hope to all families of missing children.


Steven

Steven

Final Thoughts

Although not being able to ride my bike down the street cannot compare with the horror and trauma that Steven when through, I will never forget him and the case as it hit my community with a wake-up call.

I would love to read your thoughts and reactions in the comments below.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 13, 2021:

What a sad story. I had heard of Steven Stayner before, but I didn’t know that he had died. I feel sorry for his parents and all that they had to deal with.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 13, 2021:

Peggy W,

As a parent myself now, I can understand it too. I may call it over-protection but in light of Steven Stayner, it was certainly called for knowing that evil was lurking out there all the time. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 12, 2021:

Brenda Arledge,

Many people saw the movie and it was nice of them to put it out there in movie form. Perhaps if they had compensated Steven more he wouldn't have had to work at a pizza place and come home in the dark and collide with a car, killing him. I would wish for him that many things were different. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 12, 2021:

Carb Diva,

It was an innocence lost. I remember asking why the man wanted a little boy and my parents were horrified to explain what the man did to the boy. I still have a hard time reconciling that kind of evil in my mind. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 12, 2021:

DDE,

You have told some fascinating stories too. We all see things from our perspective and to share it is to open the doors of the world. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 12, 2021:

Pamela99,

I am glad they dedicated a statue to him in the park I walked as a child. Still, so much grief goes with it that it is sort of a tribute with a dark cloud. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 12, 2021:

That is a sad account of how that tragedy also affected how you were allowed to grow up as a child. I can fully understand how your parents wanted to protect you.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 12, 2021:

billybuc,

Absolutely the point! Evil walks among us and we can't see it for what it is until something like that happens. My mother was right to be so restrictive. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 12, 2021:

Eurofile,

It was so much agony to see the joy on the faces in the newspapers only to be followed by the grief of his death and the trial of his brother. Incredible grief. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 12, 2021:

surovi99,

Thank you for understanding. I do feel a little selfish for my loss when that family lost so much. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 12, 2021:

Jodah,

I mostly mourned over not getting to join the Art Club which met in the evenings at the school. I so wanted to be a part of that. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 12, 2021:

Ericdierker,

We knew all our neighbors too and were allowed to go Christmas caroling at the neighbor's doors and even go in for hot chocolate, but we were in gangs and groups then too. It was riding the bike away from the house alone that mom objected to. I felt like: what use is a bike if I can't ride away from the driveway? Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 12, 2021:

letstalkabouteduc,

Steven started going to therapy but his father didn't like the "stigma" that everything wasn't perfect now that he was back, so he talked Steven into quitting therapy. I think he would have benefited from continuing for sure. Back then men didn't think much of therapy, you know. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 12, 2021:

MsDora,

It's so true. We should all be grateful for the simple blessing of having had a safe childhood. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on January 12, 2021:

I have heard the story & the movie,, but I didn't know of all these hardships.

It is so tragic that his parents waited so long to have him back only to lose him.

This type of event has a effect on all members if the family. Sad to hear of his brother's life turning the corner so badly.

Thanks for sharing this complete story.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on January 12, 2021:

Denise, I was not aware of this case, but it certainly brings back memories. I grew up in the same town as Bill Holland, and I too remember the case of little Anne Marie Burr. I can understand your parents' fear of letting you go, and I can also see your perspective. Now that you have children of your own, you see it through different eyes, don't you?

When an abduction happens, it changes many lives, not just the life of the family. Innocence lost.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 12, 2021:

Denise you put the story well together and created an interesting story from your side of it. I admire your talent in telling this story.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 12, 2021:

This is a horrible event that sure did impact your childhood. When we are teenagers we don't like all those rules, but this happened so close to your home that I understand the fear your parents had concerning all of you. This story had a tragic ending, and I sure feel bad for the family.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 12, 2021:

Wow! I never heard of this case. What a heartbreaking story! We had a little girl missing from our neighborhood about the same time...Ann Marie Burr....it woke our neighborhood to the fact that evil walks among us. So very sad.

Blessings always, my friend!

bill

Liz Westwood from UK on January 11, 2021:

This is a tragic story. You have retold the events well and your personal angle gives it an added depth. So sad that the relief of his escape was overcome by sad events later.

Rosina S Khan on January 11, 2021:

Yes, it is really a tragedy for Steven to get kidnapped and find his home again and then getting killed in an accident while his brother commit horrific acts. Yes, too much pain for a family. I can understand how it affected the neighborhood, especially your family, not having the freedom to bike on to the streets. Like Dora said yes, some of us should be grateful for our happy childhoods and our children's happy childhoods.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on January 11, 2021:

What an intriguing story, Denise. Steven deserved to be remembered by a statue. It is a shame the name was tarnished by his brother’s acts. I can understand your feelings of being restricted. In those days most children were let roam quite freely.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on January 11, 2021:

What an interesting story. My mom would have gone crazy being so restrictive with 6 kids.We would pack lunches and go miles from home in a day. We did stay in packs though. Never ever thought about these concepts until in late teens. It seems to me that at the time we recognized weirdos from our own town and stayed clear. And a stranger was weird until proven otherwise. I knew all my neighbors in a 3 block radius. I shoveled there walks and trimmed their grass and delivered papers since I was ten.

McKenna Meyers on January 11, 2021:

Growing up in Oakland, I was very familiar with the story of Steven Stayner. It would take someone much more knowledgeable about psychology and family dynamics than I to explain the connection between what happened to Steven and the horrific crimes that his brother eventually committed. I just wonder if the family ever reached out for counseling during all of this because it certainly would have been helpful. I just don't know how you carry on from something like that.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 11, 2021:

I remember how horrified I was when I saw the Movie "I Know My Name Is Steven." I had not heard of Steven's death until now, but I wondered how he could live through the experience and then the memories. We really should be grateful to have lived through happy childhoods and grateful again when our children do too.