Shawn Hornbeck missing for four and one half years, or 1558 days as his mother recently said on the local nightly news, until January of this year when Shawn’s rescue stunned both Saint Louis and the nation. Four days before being rescued Shawn’s captor 41-year-old, Michael Devlin kidnapped thirteen-year-old Ben Ownby.
Devlin confessed in the courtroom to kidnapping Ben at gunpoint after Ben got off his school bus in rural Franklin County Missouri. Mitch Hults rides the same bus as Ben, and is the teen’s 15-year-old friend. Hults was the last person to see Ben that afternoon, as the two parted ways at the bus stop.
Shawn was in the white pickup truck with Devlin the afternoon Ben was kidnapped. Devlin told the court he forced Shawn to witness the kidnapping, making Shawn believe he was an accessory to kidnapping and telling Shawn after the kidnapping, “you are now as guilty as I am.”
Shortly after Ben started walking home, Mitch Hults noticed an older model white pickup truck speeding past him on the highway. The white truck stuck seemed out of place to Mitch, as he had never seen it before that he could recall. The truck was still bothering Mitch when Ben’s Father called him a while later asking if Ben had gotten off the bus with Mitch, and Mitch immediately felt something was wrong and it somehow involved the white pickup truck. Police are notified and an Amber Alert for 13-year-old William Ownby Abducted from Beaufort Missouri is issued.
Sheriff Gary Toelke - Missouri's Miracle and All Star Sheriff initially met with debate about putting the description of the white truck out on the news. Since, many law enforcement officials felt there was no direct link to the white truck and Ben’s disappearance, by releasing the truck’s information the public might focus in the wrong direction and miss a lead that is significant to the case. Yet, in the end, it was the description of that mysterious white truck Mitch Hults saw that provided to key police needed to locate kidnapped victims, Ben Ownby and Sean Hornbeck.
The rescue of any kidnap victim is an amazing feat, yet to rescue two successfully in the same day is incredible and the boys soon became known as the Missouri Miracle. Having heard Devlin speak in Court this week about the horrendous atrocities, he forced on the two boys it is amazing they survived.
Shawn Hornbeck nearly died at the hands of his captor early in his captivity. At one point Devlin began to strangle Shawn on a remote logging road in the middle of Washington County. Shawn begged Devlin for his life, convincing him he would do anything to survive. Devlin agreed to let Shawn live. In essence in Michael’s sick twisted mind Shawn become his son, and he required Shawn to use the name Shawn Devlin.
What is even more horrifying is to find out that Devlin had no plans to “make and keep another son” when he kidnapped Ben Ownby. Michael Devlin was days away from ending Ben Ownby’s life when the boys were rescued. Ben had simply been a pawn, ensuring that Shawn Hornbeck understood escaping the terror he was living was not an option.
Perhaps anyone who has questioned why he never tried to alert anyone to his situation will understand there was much more going on in the “Devil’s” apartment, then a teenager simply hanging out with his captor and being allowed to play video games. The extreme physical, emotional, spiritual, and sexual abuse and torture that both boys endured is beyond comprehension for most people. To imagine the worst is only the tip of the iceberg. Yet, both boys survived and are now home safe with their families.
What puzzles authorities, Devlin’s family, and his friends the most is what happened that caused Devlin to commit such heinous acts. According to the FBI files, there is no history of abuse in Michael Devlin’s past. Devlin was a baby when adopted by James and Joyce Devlin from Webster Groves, Missouri. He is one of six children, and one of four boys who grew up and graduated from Webster Groves High School. While in high school, Devlin began working at a local Pizza Chain, Imo’s, and eventually made his way to management. In 2001, Devlin transferred to the Kirkwood Imo’s and rented his apartment at 491 South Holmes Apartment D, Kirkwood, Missouri.
The rest is history. Shawn Hornbeck was eleven when he disappeared without a trace on October 6, 2002 while riding his bike in rural Richwoods Missouri. Pam and Craig Akers, never gave up looking for their son, and they helped look for many other lost children and adults over the four and a half years Shawn was missing. Essentially, The Disappearance of Shawn Hornbeck Leads to the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation.
On Friday January 12, 2007 four days after the disappearance of William “Ben” Ownby, while working on a tip, FBI agent’s interview Devlin at his place of employment in Kirkwood. Initially he denies he was in Franklin County on Tuesday when Ben disappeared. He admits the truck is his brother’s but has been with him all week and he is in the process of buying the truck. Devlin eventually consents to search of his truck and finally when the agents talk about tire tracks being similar and distinctive in their patterns almost like fingerprints, Devlin breaks down and confesses to having Ownby and Hornbeck.
Michael Devlin agrees to take the agents to his apartment so that police do not bust in and scare the boys. He lives less than a mile from the Imo’s he works at in Kirkwood. After the boys are safe, Agents arrest Devlin. This week Devlin plead guilty to all counts of state and federal charges, meaning Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby will not have to testify in a trial. Before giving Devlin, credit for sparing the teens this arduous task, one must recognize that by pleading guilty Devlin will be serving his time in a state prison versus federal prison. In state prisons, sex offenders are segregated the general population of prisoners. Child rapist, molesters and murderers, are at a higher risk of retaliation acts by other prisoners for their heinous crimes towards children.
Devlin pleaded guilty to over 74 state and federal crimes. He has received to date over 20 life sentences. The good news he will not be out of prison to harm another child. To Shawn Hornbeck and William “Ben” Ownby I have followed your stories from the beginning and I am so happy your alive and back home with your families. May the angels surround you and bring you peace, as you realize the “Devlin/DEVIL” is gone forever.