Sunday, January 14, 2007

BEAUFORT, Mo. (AP) — Two boys kidnapped four years apart and found in the same suburban St. Louis apartment smiled shyly but said nothing at two hug-filled press conferences yesterday, a day after they were rescued.

The boys’ parents clung to them and focused on their joy at the shocking outcome, saying little about the 41-year-old man charged in the case or how the teens were treated.

The boys — 15-year-old Shawn Hornbeck, abducted more than four years ago, and 13-year-old Ben Ownby, taken after he stepped off his school bus Monday afternoon — smiled shyly and appeared at ease.

“I still feel like I’m in a dream — only this time, it’s a good dream, not the nightmare I’ve had 4 years,” Shawn’s mother, Pam Akers, said yesterday at an elementary school adorned with balloons and welcome-home signs.

Shawn’s stepfather, Craig Akers, said he and his wife were in disbelief when they were reunited with the boy.

“There was that split second of shock,” he said. “Once I saw the face, I said, ‘Oh, my God, that’s my son.’ ”

Shawn smiled often, his mother’s arm draped around him, and seemed at ease.

Shawn and Ben disappeared 4 years and 40 miles apart, though both were last seen in towns within 60 miles of St. Louis.

A routine search warrant led police to investigate the Kirkwood, Mo., apartment of Michael Devlin, an Imo’s Pizza manager and part-time funeral home worker. He was charged with first-degree kidnapping, and bail was set at $1 million.

Ben grinned broadly as his mother recalled that soon after his return home, her son immediately went to the computer to play video games.

“We’re just ecstatic,” Mrs. Ownby said. “[We] don’t want to let him go out of our sight.”

Authorities declined to offer further details about Mr. Devlin. FBI Special Agent Roland Corvington said federal charges were possible.

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 saw a white truck matching the description. They traced the owner, contacted the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, then searched Mr. Devlin’s home Friday and found the boys.

There were no details about what police found inside the apartment or how or why the boys might have been detained. Franklin County Prosecutor Robert Parks said more charges are likely.

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