2 missing boys found alive in suburban St. Louis home; man charged with kidnapping

Published 9:36 am Saturday, January 13, 2007

BEAUFORT, Mo. (AP) — A 13-year-old boy who vanished from the gravel road near his home five days ago was found alive Friday about 60 miles away in a suburban St. Louis home, along with a 15-year-old boy missing since 2002, authorities said.

Sharp-eyed police and suspicions about a white truck led police to the Kirkwood apartment of Michael Devlin, 41, who has been charged with one count of first-degree kidnapping, Sheriff Gary Toelke said.

The sheriff said both boys appeared unharmed. William Ownby who goes by Ben, appeared somewhat dazed as he walked inside the sheriff’s department, where he was reunited with his family who had been searching for him since Monday.

“His eyes lit up like silver dollars,” said the boy’s uncle, Loyd Bailie, who was escorted to the sheriff’s department with Ben’s parents. Everyone broke into tears and Ben’s parents embraced him as tightly as they could, Bailie said.

The straight-A student and Boy Scout was last seen after he stepped off his school bus and ran toward his Beaufort home down a gravel road on Monday.

A friend who left the bus with the boy told authorities that after the two parted, he saw a small white pickup with a camper shell speeding away from where Ben had been walking.

Searchers on foot, horseback and all-terrain vehicles looked for Ben in the hilly area about 60 miles southwest of St. Louis.

Toelke said the break in the case came Thursday night. Kirkwood city police officers were serving a warrant on an apartment complex when they noticed a white truck matching the description of a vehicle authorities had been searching for in the Ownby investigation.

Kirkwood officers contacted the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department and determined where the owner of the truck was and then searched Devlin’s house.

Toelke said authorities found Ben and were surprised to find another boy who identified himself as Shawn Hornbeck.

Hornbeck disappeared from his Richwoods in October 2002, when he was 11. He went for a bike ride and never returned.

Hornbeck’s parents, Pam and Craig Akers, were reunited with their son, Toelke said.

Later, 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 thrilling night.”

Hornbeck’s parents have devoted themselves to bringing missing people home since Hornbeck vanished over four years ago from his hometown 65 miles southwest of St. Louis.

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.

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.

A retired police officer volunteered to work on the case until Shawn was found.

Even though so much time had passed, Pam Akers said her son is frozen in her memory as an 11-year-old boy.

“It’s been four years,” she said on the anniversary of his disappearance last fall. “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 to be filed.

“There are a lot of things we don’t know right now,” Toelke said.

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.

“I didn’t see or hear anything odd or unusual from the apartment,” Butler said. “I just figured them for father and son.”

Devlin worked at a local pizzeria and an overnight shift answering phones at a funeral home, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported.

“He just acted like a relatively normal guy. Nothing unusual stuck out at me,” his former landlord, Marvin Reid, told the newspaper.

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