Shawn Hornbeck

In January 2007, the case of Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby—made headlines around the world. In what is referred to as the miracle in Missouri, both boys were found alive in the St. Louis-area home of alleged kidnapper Michael Devlin. Ben had been gone for four days; Shawn had been away from his home for more than four years.

Devlin has 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.

Since the boys were rescued, there has been debate and speculation in the press about why Shawn and Ben didn't escape when they had a chance. These questions angered many, including Todd—a man who suffered a similar fate in 1974.
Todd as a child

Todd was 13 years old when he says he was approached by a stranger as he got off his school bus to go home. According to Todd, the man, who was driving a Ford Fairlane station wagon, approached him about getting a free minibike. "I said no. That was my first response … no. And he says, 'Are you sure? Because I'll take it home to your mom and dad, and if your mom and dad say it's okay, then you can have it,'" Todd says. "And once he said 'mom and dad,' that's when I said okay."

Todd says he got in the car and claims that the man, Terry Roy Holman, took him to a motel in Omaha, Nebraska. "I walked into the room. He said the minibike was in the closet area," Todd says. "There was no minibike, and then I turned around and there was a gun in my face."
Todd talks about his ordeal

For 18 months, Todd says he was held captive. He says he was raped "way over a hundred" times, and that he was beaten and tortured. "He would say, 'You're mine. I can do whatever I want with you, and you enjoy it, don't you?' And if I wouldn't answer, 'Yes, I enjoy it,' I'd get hit," Todd says.

To prevent him from escaping, Todd says he was tied up and drugged with Valium and sleeping pills. "He'd wake me up abruptly and say, 'Call me dad now. I want you to call me dad now.' When I wouldn't call him dad, he'd hit me. He'd choke me until I passed out," he says. "All I did was try to live, so I let him do what he wanted with me."

Todd says that while he tried to escape, his captor terrified him into submission. "I tried running three times. He put a gun to my face and said, 'If you do, I'm going to shoot you,'" he says. "Then he dropped [the gun] down—boom, boom, boom—and he emptied a .22 between my legs."
Todd says he was forced to lure other children.

According to Todd, one of the most difficult tasks he was asked to perform was luring other children to his captor. Todd says he was sent outside to play with the children while Holman watched. Todd says he would then bring the children in—one as young as 3 years old—and Holman would allegedly put drugs in their Kool-Aid.

"That's how he got them," Todd says. He claims Holman sexually molested the children and then let them go.
Todd describes the phone call to his family.

Throughout the abduction, Todd says Holman was constantly moving him from state to state. After six months, Todd says Holman forced him to call his family. He says his instructions were to tell them he was in Tennessee with friends and that he would not be returning home.

In reality, Todd says he was in North Platte, Nebraska—but what he didn't know was that his fateful phone call gave authorities their first clue to his whereabouts. According to Todd, Holman had been using an alias. When the "alias" didn't pay his phone bill, Todd says the phone company started tracking him down by calling numbers dialed on his account. That's when they reached Todd's brother and started to unravel the truth.
Todd was found in Washington State.

Todd says authorities believed he was just another teenage runaway—but his parents knew the truth. They hired a private detective to help them find their son.

After another year of searching, Todd says the private detective tracked him down in Clarkston, Washington. "The FBI was there, and the state and sheriff's police were there, and they broke the door down," Todd says. "They found [Holman] with me."

Holman has never been tried or convicted on any charges relating to Todd's alleged abduction. The county attorney in Omaha, Nebraska, dropped the charges because Todd says they did not want to put him through the trauma of testifying. Holman is currently in prison for an unrelated crime, but will be up for parole in 2008.
Todd describes the difficulties of returning home.

Todd says returning home to his family was great at first, until he had to go back to school. "Kids can be very, very cruel, and I got kicked out of school 13 times because of fights because of being called queer [and] gay," he says. "The parents, when I was growing up, didn't explain this to their kids—[that], it's not this child's fault. It's the predator's fault."

In addition to his problems at school, Todd says he felt a lot of pressure from his mom. "She wanted to know what happened, and questioned me because she was trying to help me," he says. "She was told for me to get better, I [would] have to talk about it." But Todd says he didn't want to talk about it with his parents. "[I was afraid] if I told them, I would lose their respect."

To escape his daily stresses, Todd started doing drugs. "I didn't want to deal with it—the dreams and stuff like that."

After visiting a psychiatrist, Todd says he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He also underwent treatment for his drug use.
Todd's wife, Laura

Since his horrible ordeal, Todd has gone on to have a happy home life. He has been married to his wife, Laura, for 26 years and has three adult children. Todd says at first he didn't tell his wife what had happened to him. "She didn't know for years. That was one thing that I liked about her at first. She never judged me," he says. "It was me and only me, not what happened in the past."

Todd says his experience affected the way he and his wife raised their three children. When he thought the children were old enough to understand—about 6 or 7 years old—Todd says he told them what happened to him. "I told them the truth…[that] I was sodomized—I told them everything—I was molested. I told them what sodomy is. I told them what molestation is and all that," he says.

Todd admits he was overprotective of his children, and he always made sure they knew which family member would pick them up from school each day.
Todd says we should not judge Shawn Hornbeck.

While Todd's life has moved on, seeing news coverage of missing children—like Shawn Hornbeck—brings the past rushing back. And although there are differences between Todd's case and that of Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby, Todd says he can understand why an abducted child wouldn't be able to escape.

"When I see the Shawn Hornbeck case and I hear [people say] that, 'Wow, he had a chance to run' and all of this, [I know that] he did not have a chance to run. I know he didn't," Todd says. "I tried running, and I got beat, shot at, choked until I passed out. I'm deaf in my left ear because of it, because of the beatings from Holman. You know, they put that fear into you."

To the people who question why Shawn didn't run, Todd has something to say: "Don't judge him. He didn't have a choice and he couldn't run. He was trying to survive, and that's the bottom line," he says. "He could have been dead. Are you going to question that? He tried to stay alive. He was staying alive."
Ed Smart discusses his daughter's return home.

It was one of the most publicized kidnappings in history and every parent's worst nightmare. Five years ago, Elizabeth Smart, then 14, vanished from her Utah bedroom. Nine months later, the nation breathed a sigh of relief after Elizabeth was found alive just miles from her home. "When Elizabeth came home, it was just such a miracle," says her father, Ed Smart.

Ed says that when Elizabeth came home, the family wanted her to know one very important thing: "This was not her fault and that nobody had the right to do this. It wasn't her choice," he says. "I can't overemphasize the importance of these children being able to realize that it is not their fault."

In order to help Elizabeth reclaim her life, Ed says the family never asked her about what happened in those nine months. "Elizabeth went through a lot telling her story to forensic psychologists, and that was enough," Ed says.

Because Elizabeth gave psychologists permission to share her statements with her parents, Ed says his family didn't need to hear it from her. "I wanted her to know that she was home, that she was safe, and that she did not have to bother with this the rest of her life," he says. "That it was time for her to move on."
Ed Smart tells Oprah how Elizabeth is doing.

Today, Elizabeth is thriving in college and doing very well in her music. "I thank God, I really do. And I count my blessings every day," Ed says. "I have a wonderful wife and wonderful family and wonderful extended family, and I know that they've made it possible, along with God and all the prayers of everyone."

The trial of Elizabeth's alleged captors, Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, is pending until they are considered competent to stand trial. "Our goal is to see him not hurt anyone else," Ed says. "And he is behind bars or he is secured so that he can't do that. And, I mean, nothing's going to change with us going to trial and for this to come to an end. We know what he did. We know that he would do it again."

Still, if the day comes, Ed says the family intends to go to trial. "And Elizabeth will be there and she will face him and she will be ready to tell him off."
Ernie Allen, co-founder and president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Ernie Allen is the co-founder and president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Since the center opened in 1984, it has helped recover more than 110,000 children.

So what is really going on with child safety in this country? "The laws have failed America's children," Ernie says. "This is a problem that's touching millions of kids and millions of families."

Ernie says some of the facts to consider are:

  • Of the more than 600,000 convicted and registered sex offenders living in the United States, 100,000 are missing.
  • California is the state with the highest number of registered sex offenders at 109,000. Second is Texas, with 50,000. Ranking third is Michigan, with 40,000.
  • Only 1 in 3 sexual offenses against children are ever reported.
  • 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 10 boys will be sexually victimized in some way in the United States before they turn 18.
  • Forty to 50 percent of those who victimize girls are family members, but only 10 to 20 percent of those who victimize boys are in the family.
Ernie Allen and Oprah discuss changing laws.

Ernie says this country suffers from a sense of denial when it comes to crimes against children, and that two laws need to be changed now.

Every single offender needs to be registered and law enforcement needs better tracking systems, Ernie says. Currently, Ernie says there are 31 states where failure to register is a mere misdemeanor. "These guys move around, and they take advantage of the inadequacies of the laws," Ernie says. "We know that these kinds of offenders represent the highest risk of reoffense. So at a minimum, we need to know where they are."

Penalties also need to be strengthened against child sex offenders, Ernie says. Although abuse can happen in families, Ernie says abuse more often occurs by someone outside the home, not necessarily a stranger. "In the vast majority of these cases, the offender wins the confidence of the child," Ernie says. "They target vulnerable kids. They prey on that vulnerability. They approach them with friendship and kindness, and then they victimize them."
Bill O'Reilly wants to put predators behind bars.

In January 2007, Andrew C. James, a man with two prior domestic assault convictions, pled guilty to sexually assaulting a 4-year-old boy in Vermont. In a plea bargain, he was given a $22 fine and sentenced to rehabilitation and lifetime probation. Today, he walks a free man.

How could this happen in America? It's a question Fox News talk show host Bill O'Reilly is asking. Bill has made it his mission to put James behind bars.

"In Vermont, you need to know that they are a restorative justice state, along with Minnesota. Only two in the country," Bill says. "And they believe that rehabilitation is a key component to even child molestation and child rape cases."
Oprah speaks with Bill O'Reilly via satellite.

Bill feels that cases like James's violate the cornerstone of the American justice system—ensuring that the punishment fits the crime. "You've got to understand. This thing, this molestation, rape, never goes away," Bill says. "We have an obligation to get rid of them. To put them away so they can't possibly hurt anybody again."

The James case is not the first time Bill has pushed to keep pedophiles off the streets. Last year, he publicly criticized another Vermont judge who sentenced a man convicted of raping a 6-year-old girl over a four-year period to only 60 days in jail. The convicted man's friend, who also allegedly raped the girl, received 12–15 years. After Bill confronted the judge with his cameras, the first man's sentence was extended to three years. "Both men should have gotten life in prison, no parole. Because this girl is devastated," Bill says.
Senator Dick Sears

The Oprah Show contacted Vermont Senator Dick Sears for a statement.

"Mr. O'Reilly took one unfortunate case where one of the toughest prosecution teams in the state of Vermont was unable, for a variety of reasons, to get what most of us would consider a just sentence.

"The real danger in this type of reporting is that it provides a false sense of security in states with perceived tougher sentencing.

"Last year, Vermont passed some significant and tough changes in our laws regarding sex offenders and pedophiles. The James case was filed before those laws took effect.

"Do we have more to do? Absolutely. But to infer that Vermont does not take sex offenders seriously or that we are a haven for sex offenders is just plain wrong."
Bill O'Reilly responds to Senator Sears's statement.

Bill takes a moment to respond to Senator Sears's statement. "I say Mr. Sears is seriously misguided. The legislature in Vermont voted down Jessica's Law. Forty-one states now have a variation of that law. Vermont refuses to pass it," Bill says. "They say they have tough laws against sexual offenders. That's true. Every state does. But they're not mandatory. That means the judge has discretion just like these two judges. … They can bust it down."

Bill feels this country hasn't confronted the issue of child sexual assault head-on because "nobody wants to think about it. It's too grisly."

There are two ways to fight this, Bill says. The first is by law. "Anybody doing this kind of stuff, it's life in prison. Period. That's it," he says.

The second is for parents to educate their children at home. "Every father has got to convince their child that they are their champion. That they are their personal defender. No matter what happens to the child, no matter what situation it is, that father will rescue the child, will make the child safe," Bill says. "And the child has to be conditioned to fight as hard as a child can fight when any adult approaches in any situation. It has to be brought home in every living room."
Protect your children today.

You can start protecting your children today by simply writing a letter urging your congressman and governor to fully fund something called the Adam Walsh Act, named for the slain son of America's Most Wanted host John Walsh. "There is nothing that's a higher priority for America's moms and dads," Ernie says. "This is homeland security."

The legislation, just passed in Congress, makes it a federal felony when a convicted sex offender fails to register. It also creates a national website and database of these offenders, and charges marshals with tracking offenders. The Adam Walsh Act also makes it mandatory for each state to have consistent and uniform laws.

Download a copy of the letter or write your own, but don't delay!

"This is the year to take a stand for your children. For your sister's children. For your neighbor's children, who are all our children," Oprah says.