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Friends to Follow

Family of boy in Mo. kidnapping case recalls happily receiving word of his recovery

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KIRKWOOD, Mo. — Ben Ownby has spent a lot of time watching TV since he was rescued from a man accused of kidnapping him and another boy, but there’s one face he’s tired of seeing.
    ‘‘I’ve seen too much of me on there,’’ he said.
    Ben was quiet and shy but appeared happy and well-adjusted Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press at his home in the rural town of Beaufort, where he was kidnapped Jan. 8. Christmas decorations, including the tree, were still up, adding to the festive atmosphere inside the home.
    Ben, who has been asked by investigators and his parents to avoid discussing details of his captivity, said it was great to be back with family.
    ‘‘It feels like I’m getting bruises from too many hugs,’’ he said.
    Earlier Tuesday, in an interview on NBC-TV’s ‘‘Today’’ show, Ben’s mother recalled the words a police officer used to tell her they had recovered her son, who had been missing for four days: ‘‘We have him.’’
    ‘‘And I said, ’We have who?’ ’cause I thought he was talking about the bad guy,’’ Doris Ownby said in a recorded interview broadcast Tuesday on NBC-TV’s ‘‘Today.’’
    Michael Devlin, a 41-year-old pizza shop employee who also held a job answering telephones at night at a funeral home, was being held in lieu of $1 million bail. He is charged in the kidnapping of 13-year-old Ben, but authorities also expect to charge him with abducting Shawn Hornbeck, a 15-year-old abducted four years ago.
    Both boys were found Friday in Devlin’s apartment in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood.
    Ben and his parents thanked Mitchell Hults, 15, a friend who helped authorities find him by identifying a small white pickup seen speeding away after Ben’s abduction. The middle school where both Ben and Mitchell attend planned an assembly Tuesday to honor Mitchell.
    Ben said he has few plans for this week. He’s spending a lot of time playing video games again and might travel to Chicago to be on the Oprah Winfrey show.
    As far as returning to school, Ben said he can’t do that until he gets his backpack back. ‘‘They have it for evidence,’’ he said with a laugh.
    The Ownbys said authorities had asked the families of both boys not to speak about their time in captivity. That left open the mystery of how their captor kept them from escaping.
    Investigators have given no motive for the crimes and no details on what the boys went through. Officials said Devlin did not appear to have a criminal record.
    The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Tuesday cited anonymous investigators as saying that Devlin kept Shawn from fleeing by threatening to kill the boy and his entire family, perhaps explaining why Shawn passed on ample opportunities to get away. Devlin’s attorney, Michael Kielty did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment on that allegation.
    Kielty said earlier he has not seen any evidence and will enter a not guilty plea at an arraignment Thursday morning at the Franklin County Courthouse.
    Shawn, now 15, was 11 when he was kidnapped in 2002 while riding his bike near his rural home.
    Devlin’s two jobs often took him away from the modest two-bedroom apartment they shared.
    Shawn apparently had the freedom to go outside, and perhaps even to use phones and the Internet.
    A series of Web postings, some under the name ‘‘Shawn Devlin,’’ have raised questions about whether he was trying to send clues about his real identity.
    At 1:59 a.m. on Dec. 1, 2005, a ‘‘Shawn Devlin’’ asked in a forum on the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation Web site: ‘‘How long are you planing (sic) to look for your son?’’ Shawn’s parents, Craig and Pam Akers, started the foundation to help find their son and other missing youngsters.
    Later that same day, at 2:56 p.m., Shawn Devlin wrote to ask if he could compose a poem for the family. The poem never appeared in future postings.
    Other Web profiles also appeared to be of Shawn, including the profile on, which described ‘‘Shawn’’ as a single atheist with a pet cat living in Kirkwood.
    Investigators would not comment on the postings, and it was not immediately known if they were, in fact, created by Shawn or by someone else. Either way, they add to the long list of clues that no one seemed to pick up on while the boy was missing.
    Dr. Juliet Francis, a clinical psychologist and consultant for the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children, said it is not unusual for a bond to develop between an abductor and the child.
    ‘‘It developed when someone feels that their life is being threatened, but they aren’t killed,’’ she said.
    Some neighbors said they never saw Shawn with books or a backpack. Krista Jones noticed Shawn wearing black clothes and piercings in his ear and lip, and figured he was a dropout or attended an alternative school.
    Larry Douglas said his younger brother, Tony, and Shawn were best friends and often went skateboarding and biking. He said Tony had no idea of Shawn’s real identity. Larry Douglas said his family was not allowing his brother to speak to reporters.
    Before Tony Douglas’ family made him unavailable to the media, he told Fox News that on three occasions, police stopped the two for being out beyond curfew. Officers gave the boys a lift home, unaware of Shawn’s real identity, Tony said.
    The Post-Dispatch cited another encounter between Shawn and police that occurred Sept. 29 when an officer stopped the boy, who was riding his bike about 11:20 p.m., about a mile from the apartment.
    The police report said Shawn told the officer his name was Shawn Devlin and gave a birth date of July 7, 1991 — 10 days off his actual birthday. Shawn told the officer he was biking to the apartment after visiting a friend.
    ‘‘He said he was Shawn Devlin, and we had no reason to doubt him,’’ Glendale Sgt. Bob Catlett told the newspaper.
    Tony sometimes spent the night at Shawn’s apartment, but rarely spoke with Devlin. Larry Douglas said his brother saw no indication of abuse, or clues that Shawn was a captive.
    ‘‘He just hopes to see his friend again,’’ Douglas said. ‘‘He’s happy for Shawn.’’
    Associated Press writers Cheryl Wittenauer and Jim Suhr in St. Louis and Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City contributed to this report.
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