From Victim to Hero: The Untold Story of Steven Stayner by Jim Laughter

Years ago, I caught the story of Steven Stayner on video. His story is truly remarkable and highlights the plight of missing and abducted children so acutely that it is almost hard to read. Tragically he was claimed in a motorcycle accident only nine years after having been returned to his family and then his brother, Cary Stayner, became a notorious serial killer. The family has attributed some of what happened to Cary as a fall out from Steven’s abduction and the families focus on his(Steven’s) being missing.

In 1972, Steven Stayner was seven years old and walking the two blocks home from school. A convicted pedophile enticed him into his car with the ruse of being a minister and the promise of a ride home to get a contribution from his parents. He was abducted and told his parents had given him up because they were too poor to take care of him and this man, Kenneth Parnell, had adopted him.

For the next seven years, after being renamed Dennis by Parnell and disguised by having his hair dyed and cut, Steven was moved from town to town and was physically and sexually abused by Parnell. When Steven was fourteen and had become bigger and more difficult to control by Parnell, another child, a five year old named Timmy White, was abducted.

Steven, in an effort to save Timmy from what had happened to him, spirited Timmy from the remote cabin where they were being kept and hitchhiked almost 40 miles in a thunderstorm to the nearest police station. While being questioned, he revealed he was Steven Stayner and had been abducted by the same man seven years prior. Unknown to Steven, Parnell had dug a grave that day and had prepared to murder Steven that night because he was no longer under Parnell’s control and was now old enough to tell what had happened to him. He then planned to move Timmy White across the country and continue the abuse.

Steven was given the $15,000 reward for the rescue of Timmy White at Timmy’s request. He had a very difficult readjustment to his biological family due to the permissive lifestyle he had been living away from them and the hostility from his brother at the attention he got from the media and his parents.

Steven ended up moving away to a neighboring town, married and had children and then was tragically killed in a hit and run motorcycle accident by an illegal immigrant. During the court proceedings for the prosecution of Parnell, he (Parnell) received a mere 8 years for the abduction of Timmy White and 20 months for the sexual and physical abuse of Steven because the law in California at the time had a three year statute that was determined to have run while Steven was in captivity. In all, Parnell only served five years for the abduction and abuse of two children.

Although the story is somewhat tragic, Steven worked tirelessly with California schools to promote awareness of “stranger danger”. Speaking frankly to many grade school children about his experiences he probably saved hundreds of lives. A fascinating look at a tragic subject.

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