Family's Ordeal Ends as Missing Son Comes Home

By Kari Lydersen and Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, January 14, 2007

KIRKWOOD, Mo., Jan. 13 -- Somehow, after all the dashed hopes and dead ends, after four years of fruitlessly searching forests and mine shafts and Internet bulletin boards, Craig and Pam Akers still expected they would hear news of their kidnapped son.

They just never expected the news would be this good.

The cellphone rang Friday afternoon as the couple drove home from work through a cold sleet. The county prosecutor was on the line. He advised them to pull over, and their hearts began to pound.

"The next words were, 'We're 95 percent sure we've found Shawn and he's alive,' " Craig Akers said Saturday. "Those were the sweetest words I ever heard in my life."

Police found Shawn Hornbeck, now 15, alive and seemingly well on Friday when they searched a suburban St. Louis apartment for a second kidnapped boy, Ben Ownby, a 13-year-old snatched early last week on his way home from school.

Both boys appeared healthy and at ease during news conferences Saturday, smiling as cameras flashed. Their parents did the talking, speaking of prayers answered and asking for privacy to let it all sink in.

"Shawn is a miracle here," Pam Akers said. "I still feel like I'm in a dream. Only this time it's a good dream, it's not my nightmare I've lived for 4 1/2 years."

Authorities charged Michael Devlin, 41, a pizza shop worker who moonlights at a funeral home, with one count of kidnapping but revealed little of what they know. Publicly, they marveled at the rescue of two teenagers kidnapped four years and 40 miles apart, one of them all but given up for dead.

Franklin County Sheriff Gary Toelke summed up the mood when he told reporters, "We have some good news, and we have some probably unbelievable news."

The path to finding Shawn, kidnapped in 2002 while riding his bike near his home in Richwoods, began when Ben turned up missing on Monday after a school bus dropped him off near his home in rural Beaufort. A friend of Ben's told police that a white pickup truck with a camper shell sped away on the gravel road at about the time Ben disappeared.

Kirkwood police saw the truck, obtained a search warrant and wrote the uncommonly happy ending. The boys met their disbelieving families at the sheriff's department. Devlin, raised and schooled nearby, was already under arrest.

Akers, who is Shawn's stepfather, told reporters gathered in an elementary school gym what it was like when he laid eyes on the gangly teenager with floppy hair, a hooded sweatshirt and a pierced lip.

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