Authorities allegedly found Shawn at the home of Michael Devlin after tips in the abduction of another boy—13-year-old Ben Ownby—led them to Devlin's apartment complex.
When Ben was allegedly kidnapped on January 8, 2007, just outside St. Louis, Missouri, 15-year-old Mitchell Hults told police he saw a white pickup truck in the vicinity. "I never [saw] that vehicle [before]—never—because every vehicle that comes down here I notice, and that truck I didn't. It didn't dawn on me that Ben would get in that truck," Mitchell says.
Days later, police Officers Gary Wagster and Chris Nelson— who were at an apartment complex on an unrelated call—noticed a white truck that matched the witness's description. The officers called their station and ran a background check on the vehicle. Once they confirmed the owner's name, they started looking for the alleged owner, Michael Devlin.
As Gary and Chris walked around the building, they noticed a man they suspected was Devlin taking out his garbage. Gary says Devlin, whom he recognized as an employee of a local pizza restaurant called Imo's, acknowledged that the truck was his. During their conversation, police say Devlin started becoming more and more defensive. "For a guy that's laid back, he got real defensive, started clinching his fists, darting his eyes, evasive when I was asking him questions," Gary says.
As they continued their conversation, Chris says they became more suspicious and he had a gut feeling something was wrong. The officers contacted the FBI, and when authorities searched Devlin's apartment, they found Ben and Shawn.
Shawn and his parents say that while it was awful that Ben was kidnapped, if not for Ben, Shawn might not have been reunited with his family. Pam believes that if they didn't find the boys when they did, Shawn may never have come home. "I'm afraid that my worst nightmare would have come true at that time," Pam says.
"[I feel] thankful that he held in there for those couple of days, and I'm sorry for what he went through, because I told myself a long time ago I never want any other kid to go through what I went through," Shawn says. "But I am thankful for him for holding in there, and I'm happy that he's back with his family."
During his horrifying ordeal, Shawn says that he "crossed himself" every night and prayed that he would be reunited with his parents. He says he knew they would be holding out hope for his return, and that hope kept him going. "There was a time when I was thinking about giving up, but then I just thought of what they [were] doing and searching for me and looking for me. And then I knew they [weren't] giving up so I figured I shouldn't," Shawn says.
Shawn says now that he's home with his family, he is looking forward to trying to get things back to normal. "He just wants to be treated like everybody else and like a normal kid. He doesn't want any attention. He doesn't want anything special. He just wants to be Shawn and do what a normal 15-year-old is supposed to be doing with his family and his parents," Craig says. One of the things Shawn is most looking forward to is returning to school.
As for his ordeal, Shawn says he will be ready to talk about it someday. When asked if he thinks he will ever have a normal life again, Shawn says, "At some point, yes. We're hoping soon, though."
Ben Ownby is a straight-A student and Boy Scout who always lets his parents know where he is. So when Ben was late coming home from school on January 8, 2007, his parents knew immediately that something was terribly wrong.
Doris and Don Ownby began frantically searching for their son and called to see if friends and neighbors had seen him. Don reached out to Mitchell, a 15-year-old neighbor, who told him about the crucial clue of the case. "He relayed the story about this white pickup being sideways in the road and driving erratically, and then from there I called the sheriff's department," Don says.
During the days Ben was missing, Doris says she felt an indescribable "ache" in her heart. Still, she believed she would see her son again. "We just would do everything we could to find him," she says.
Then, four days after his disappearance, police spotted the white pickup truck and Doris and Don were finally reunited with their son. "I just didn't want to quit hugging him," Doris says.
Doris and Don are still reluctant to let their 13-year-old out of their sight. They say Ben will return to school after he speaks with counselors, but they haven't yet thought about whether they will let him ride the bus again.
The family says they will let Ben take his time in telling them what happened in those four days. "I sat down with him the other day and told him that he could talk to us about it any time he wanted to at his own time," Doris says. "We just want him to feel comfortable first."
Dr. Clint Van Zandt is a former FBI profiler, an MSNBC analyst and the author of the book Facing Down Evil. He is also the victim of a child snatching that he was lucky enough to quickly escape from when he was 7 years old. As a victim and a law enforcement officer, Clint says he understands why people in Shawn and Ben's situation wouldn't call home.
Clint warns people not to buy into the "psychobabble" they might hear on television. "The bottom line is if you're 11 or 13 and you've got a potentially 6-foot-4, 300-pound aggressor...you do what you have to do to survive sometimes," Clint says.
During Ben and Shawn's healing process, Clint says it's imperative not to ask one simple question. "What we don't want to do is say, 'Why?' Why didn't you call? Why didn't you pick up the phone?" Clint says. "Because he was traumatized. Because he was frightened. Because he was in a survival mode. There are emotional handcuffs. There are psychological prisons we can be in without bars."
Clint also says to give these boys time. "We need to give these two kids some slack and let them have time to find themselves," Clint says. "Let them create new memories."
Clint says it's important to maintain open communication with your children should tragedy ever strike. Because of his own feelings of shame and responsibility, he didn't tell his mother about his own abduction until two years ago. "I thought I would get in trouble," Clint says. "I left that guy on the street to do that to another child."
If there's anything parents need to teach our children, Clint says, it's that they can tell them anything. "They can come to us and share anything ... we're kind of a sounding board for them," Clint says. "We'll listen, but we won't criticize."
It's also important to let traumatized children know that whatever happened isn't their fault, Clint says. "It's like a woman who's a rape victim or who's been in an abusive relationship," Clint says. "That's not her fault. That's not their fault."
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Michael Devlin, the 41-year-old alleged kidnapper of the two Missouri boys, pleaded not guilty to kidnapping charges filed in connection with Shawn and Ben. He has yet to enter a plea to the remaining 71 charges against him, including 69 counts of forcible sodomy.
When asked for comment, Devlin's attorney issued the following statement:
"The facts of this case will be revealed at the appropriate time and place. Until then, we ask that Mr. Devlin's constitutional rights be respected. We urge fair-minded individuals to renounce premature conclusions of guilt and refrain from any misrepresentation of the facts. Michael Devlin understands the gravity of these accusations against him. Together we desire to ... allow the judicial process to run its course."
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