Yesterday morning little Dost Boray found himself at the bottom of the Capitol's East Steps, contentedly trotting back and forth on the sidewalk and chasing a yellow balloon that read "Save the Children."

At 18 months, Dost was too young to know the happy irony that he was indeed a child who had been "saved" or that his sister and her friend were there to be honored for protecting him from an attempted abduction almost three weeks ago. He simply was reveling in the warm sun and the sport of balloon-kicking.

Ayse Boray, 10, and her friend Terra Gill, 7, were honored by Sen. Jake Garn (R-Utah), the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Adam Walsh Child Resource Center for their quick, level-headed response to an alarming situation:

On a Sunday morning walk in the Wesley Heights area of Northwest, with Dost in a stroller, Ayse and Terra were approached by a woman who said, "Stop, that's my baby."

When the woman tried to remove Dost from his stroller, Ayse took him into her arms. As the woman continued to tug at the toddler, Ayse called for help and Terra ran into the nearby apartment where the children live and fetched her mother. Neighbors and passers-by intervened, and police and the children's parents arrived minutes later.

The woman was arrested and charged with attempted kidnaping.

Jim Chandler, executive director of the Adam Walsh center, praised the two girls yesterday for using "preventative skills in what was nothing really spectacular or special" but was a challenge that called for "smart" thinking. "For that reason," he continued, "we have Dost with us today." An oblivious Dost watched as his sister and her friend accepted two large boxes from Garn filled with teddy bears.

The ceremony also marked today's national balloon launch, sponsored by the center for missing children to raise funds for 135 organizations across the country that work to prevent child abductions and exploitation.

Like his daughter, who blushed at being called a "hero" and instead described herself as "just a person," Yavuz Boray played down his daughter's exceptional behavior.

For half a dozen parents of children who have been abducted and are still missing, it was a bittersweet ceremony to attend.

Jack Ferguson's daughter Jacqueline Regina Lomax disappeared from their Northeast neighborhood 1 1/2 years ago. "It's not something I'm happy to come to," he said, "but I want to encourage people to realize that we are dealing with human life. It's not a pleasing thing to deal with, being as my daughter is still missing."

With tear-filled eyes, Terry Thate, whose son Jeremiah was taken from Prince George's Hospital Center four months ago when he was 3 weeks old, said of the morning ceremony, "You're always glad for the other person, but you wish you were the one -- that someone was being honored for saving Jeremy."

As she spoke, her husband Rob Thate stood with Ilknur Boray, who was holding her son Dost, telling her about his own missing son.

Yavuz Boray said he and his wife were "very emotional" about the Thates' tragedy. Boray has clipped a sketch of the kidnaping suspect from a magazine.

"I have stuck it near the phone," he said, "and every day I look at it before I go to work. I hope that Jeremiah will be found."