2 Missing Boys Found Alive in Missouri
January 13, 2007
By Christopher Leonard
Mo. - Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby disappeared 4 1/2 years and 40
miles apart. Police were stunned to find both boys _ alive and
apparently well _ in the same suburban St. Louis apartment.
The shocking development Friday was
hailed as a miracle in two rural Missouri communities _ Richwoods,
where Shawn was 11 when he disappeared on Oct. 6, 2002 _ and
Beaufort 40 miles to the north, where Ben, 13, hadn't been seen
since getting off a school bus Monday afternoon.
A routine search warrant led police
to investigate the Kirkwood, Mo., apartment dweller, Michael Devlin,
41, an Imo's Pizza manager and part-time funeral home worker. He was
charged with first-degree kidnapping and held in the Franklin County
Jail on $1 million bond.
An elated Franklin County Sheriff
Gary Toelke, who headed the search for Ben, began a news conference
Friday by telling reporters, "We have some good news and we have
some probably unbelievable news."
The key to finding the boys was a
beat-up white pickup truck spotted by a schoolmate of Ben's who got
off the bus at the same time. The friend saw the pickup speeding
away about the time Ben vanished from the gravel road near his home.
On Thursday night, Kirkwood city
police officers were serving a warrant on an apartment complex when
they noticed a white truck matching the description. They contacted
the Franklin County Sheriff's Department and determined where the
owner of the truck was, then searched Devlin's home Friday and found
After being reunited with their
families, both boys were taken to SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's
Hospital in St. Louis for evaluation. Hospital spokesman Bob
Davidson said both were in good spirits.
"The boys were smiling and appeared
very pleased to be with their families," Davidson said. "Obviously
the families were incredibly tickled to have the boys back. It's a
Ben's uncle, Loyd Bailie, told The
Associated Press he was escorted to the Franklin County Sheriff's
Department with Ben's parents. He said Ben was delighted when he saw
"His eyes lit up like silver
dollars," Bailie said.
Everyone broke into tears and Ben's
parents embraced him as tightly as they could, Bailie said.
Ben seemed in good health, but was
hungry. Sheriff's deputies brought in sandwiches and a honey bun and
Ben instantly devoured the sweet, Bailie said.
In Kirkwood, law enforcement
officials congregated outside the modest brick apartment where
Devlin lived. Temporary lights and trailers were set up in the
apartment complex courtyard as a cold, driving rain fell.
There were no immediate details
about what was inside the apartment, or how the boys might have been
A neighbor, Rick Butler, 43, said
the FBI came to his door Thursday night and showed a picture of Ben,
asking if he had seen him. He said he had not. But he had seen a boy
he now believes was Hornbeck.
He said he saw no evidence that the
boy now believed to be Hornbeck was scared or trying to get away. He
had seen Devlin and the teen pitch a tent in the courtyard. On
another occasion, he found the boy's cell phone and returned it to
"I didn't see or hear anything odd
or unusual from the apartment," Butler said. "I just figured them
for father and son."
The two disappearances had
similarities. Both boys seemed to vanish without a trace, both from
quiet rural areas. Richwoods is about 50 miles southwest of St.
Louis, in Washington County. Beaufort is about 60 miles from the
city, and about 40 miles north of Richwoods.
Shawn Hornbeck, now 15, disappeared
from his rural home when he was 11. He went for a bike ride and
never returned. His parents, dozens of volunteers and sniffer dogs
searched for weeks. The couple set up a Web site and listened to
anyone who offered a tip.
In the years since, Shawn's
parents, Pam and Craig Akers, devoted themselves to missing child
cases. They were reunited with their son in Union, the Franklin
County seat and where the sheriff's department is.
Craig Akers, Shawn's stepfather,
quit his job as a software designer to devote his time to a
foundation bearing his son's name. They depleted their savings,
borrowed against their retirement and talked to psychics. The
financial strain forced both of them back to work.
On the anniversary of the
disappearance in October, Pam Akers said, "It's been four years. But
for me, it's just been one long continuous day."
Toelke said authorities were still
investigating the motive behind the abductions. Franklin County
Prosecutor Robert Parks said more charges are likely.
"There are a lot of things we don't
know right now," Toelke said.
Associated Press Writers Cheryl
Wittenauer, Betsy Taylor and Jim Salter in St. Louis contributed to