MERCED -- Ashley Stayner's grin couldn't have been more radiant Saturday as an indigo blanket was pulled from a bronze sculpture of her father, Steven Stayner, immortalizing his heroic legacy.
Meanwhile, a musician played a somber bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace," while a large crowd of family members and admirers stood captivated by the nearly 12-foot-tall memorial.
It was the first time Ashley Stayner, who is serving in the Air Force, had seen the sculpture depicting her father and Timothy "Timmy" James White, the 5-year-old boy Steven Stayner rescued from a pedophile in 1980.
"He really inspires me every day," said Stayner, 24, looking up toward her father's sculpture.
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Saturday's unveiling of the Steven Stayner and Missing Children's Memorial at the 26th and M streets entrance of Merced's Applegate Park was the culmination of seven years of effort by residents to create a monument recognizing Steven Stayner, dedicated to all missing children.
Steven Stayner was kidnapped in 1972 at the age of 7 in Merced by child molester Kenneth Parnell. Stayner was held captive and sexually abused for seven years.
Parnell's yearnings for young children led him to abduct another boy, Timothy White, from Ukiah in February 1980. Rather than stand by and let another child suffer the same abuse, Stayner left with White while their captor was away.
Stayner led White to safety, and law enforcement officers were able to return both boys home. Unfortunately, Stayner's life was cut short in 1989 by a motorcycle accident.
White died at age 35 this year of a pulmonary embolism. He was a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy with a wife and two children.