New symbol of hope in Merced

FRESNO, Calif.

A bronze statue is honoring a Merced hero by reminding people of his tragic story. This bronze statue has been hidden from the public since Friday morning.

The first thing most people visiting Applegate Park in Merced comment about is Steven Stayner holding Timothy White's hand.

Police said it is an accurate portrayal of what the two looked like more than 30 years ago. That's when Stayner, after 7-years in forced captivity, helped White escape from a pedophile.

"To safeguard a 5-year old boy and return him to his family was every bit heroic," said former Ukiah police officer Russ Van Voorhis.

Saturday more than 150-people gathered to celebrate this act of courage and revitalize the efforts to stop childhood abduction and abuse. Unfortunately Stayner is not alive to see his positive effect.

He was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1989 at the age of 24.

"We haven't really had a lot of dedications to him and he deserves, he deserves this very much," said Ashley Stayner.

Ashley said her father's strength then empowers her to serve in the Air force now. "He really inspires me every day. Every day he does. So I am really inspired to be like him," Stayner said.

Stayner's mother has not seen many of these faces in years. Kay Stayner: "Very emotional. It just brings it all back and you just relive it. Tomorrow we get to go on with our lives."

The concept for this memorial began seven years ago. Since then $54,000 has been raised to create it and maintain it for the future.

"The Stayner family should be very proud," said Angela Gitlin. She has a special connection to this statue…she is White's mother. "It brings back memories of a very bad time but a very wonderful time. It changed our life and we got our lives back because of Steven," she said.

White died this year at the age of 35 from a pulmonary embolism.

When Stayner made it back home he immediately began helping police, parents and children understand how predators operate.

The ultimate goal of this missing children's memorial is to prevent this crime from happening again.

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