Friends greet Shawn Hornbeck (center), his mother, Pam Akers (left), and stepfather Craig Akers before a Jan. 13 press conference.
HUY RICHARD MACH/ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
01/17/2007 AT 11:00 AM EST
Down a long gravel road, in a one-story house by a Missouri highway, visitors learn what a miracle feels like – it feels like an albino ferret named Ghost. "She's kind of smelly," says young Ben Ownby – who just a week earlier had been abducted on that same gravel road and vanished for four hellish days – before plopping his squirmy pet on a guest's lap. "I saved up the money to get her: $140." As Ben, 13, rounds up one of his five cats, his father, Don, explains how all the holiday decorations still up in the house – the chaos of the past week didn't leave any time to take them down – will now come in handy. "Christmas," he says, "might go on a while longer."
The gift of Ben's safe return would be remarkable all on its own, but his rescue yielded a second miracle: the discovery of Shawn Hornbeck, 15, missing since 2002. On Jan. 12 FBI agents – acting on a tip provided by one of Ben's schoolmates, who reported seeing a white truck near Ben's home in Beaufort, Mo., the day he disappeared – raided a ground-floor apartment in Kirkwood, a St. Louis suburb, and found both Ben and Shawn inside. The FBI also arrested their apparent abductor, Michael Devlin, 41, at the Kirkwood pizza parlor where he worked as a manager. Finding two missing teenagers in one place, especially when one has been missing for as long as Shawn Hornbeck, "is certainly very rare," says Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, citing the return of Elizabeth Smart in 2003 as one of the very few examples of a child being found alive after so long. "The most powerful thing about this case is that it provides real hope for other searching families."