- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2007

KIRKWOOD, Mo. — Teenager Shawn Hornbeck, while the kidnapping suspect was at work, may have put photos of himself online and posted a message on a site created by his own parents: “How long are you planning to look for your son?”

A series of Web postings under the name “Shawn Devlin” — Devlin is the last name of the man suspected of kidnapping Shawn and posing as his father — came to light after Shawn’s rescue from an apartment in Kirkwood last week.

Investigators would not comment on the postings, and it was not immediately known if they were, in fact, created by Shawn. But if so, they add to the long list of clues that no one seemed to pick up on during the 4 years after the boy vanished.

They also deepen the mystery of why Shawn apparently made no attempt to escape or notify authorities.

Shawn, now 15, was 11 when he was kidnapped in 2002 while riding his bike near his rural home. Police found him Friday in a suburban St. Louis apartment where they also discovered 13-year-old Ben Ownby, who had been missing for four days.

The kidnapping suspect, Michael Devlin, a 41-year-old pizza shop employee who also held a job answering telephones at night at a funeral home, was jailed on $1 million bail. So far, he is charged only in the kidnapping of Ben, but authorities also plan to charge him with abducting Shawn.

Investigators have given no motive for the crime and no details on what the boys went through. Officials said Mr. Devlin did not appear to have a criminal record.

Mr. Devlin’s attorney, Michael Kielty, said he has not seen any evidence and will enter a not guilty plea at his arraignment later this week.

During his captivity, Shawn may have offered clues on the Web that went overlooked.

At 1:59 a.m. on Dec. 1, 2005, someone using the name “Shawn Devlin” asked in a forum on the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation Web site: “How long are you [planning] 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.

Shawn’s stepfather, Mr. Akers, has said that during Shawn’s captivity, he did not attend school.

Krista Jones, a stay-at-home mom who lives in the same apartment complex, noticed Shawn wearing black clothes and piercings in his ear and lip. “I figured maybe he’s just a dropout,” or thought he attended an alternative school, she said.

She said that a few months ago, she saw Mr. Devlin showing Shawn how to drive Mr. Devlin’s pickup. A short time later, she saw Shawn driving the truck with another boy, Tony Douglas, beside him. Missouri law allows 15-year-olds to drive, but only if an adult is with them.

Tony’s brother, Larry, said Tony often went skateboarding and biking with Shawn and had no idea of Shawn’s real identity. Larry Douglas said his brother was not being allowed to speak to the press.

“They were best friends,” Larry Douglas said.

Washington County Sheriff Kevin Schroeder said that Mr. Devlin owned a piece of vacant property in Washington County, about 20 minutes from where Shawn was seized in the rural community of Richwoods.

“It’s a connection — I would definitely say so,” Sheriff Schroeder said.

Ben Ownby was also abducted from a small town, Beaufort, in neighboring Franklin County. Both Beaufort and Richwoods are about an hour from Kirkwood.

A spokeswoman for Shawn’s family declined interview requests yesterday. Lloyd Bailie, Ben’s uncle, said on CBS that Ben was talking about the ordeal only with his FBI counselors.

Michael Popkin of Atlanta, author of the book “Active Parenting,” said it was not surprising that Shawn had seemingly adapted to life with his kidnapper.

“What happens is that you’re dependent on your captor for your survival needs, for your safety,” Mr. Popkin said. “You can start identifying with them if they show kindness and win you over.”

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