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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 January 2007, 00:26 GMT
Missing son's return a 'miracle'
Pam Akers and her son Shawn Hornbeck
Shawn's mother: Nightmare of past four years is over

The family of a US teenage boy found by police four years after he went missing have been speaking of their joy and relief at his "miracle" return.

Shawn Hornbeck, 15, and a 13-year-old boy who vanished this week were found on Friday in a flat near St Louis.

A 41-year-old man, Michael Devlin, has been charged with kidnapping.

"Shawn is a miracle here," said his mother, Pam Akers, who together with her husband runs a foundation helping with missing children cases.

Shawn Hornbeck, who was 11 when he vanished in rural Missouri, smiled as his mother and stepfather, Craig Akers, told a news conference of their joy to have him home.


They had been in disbelief when they were reunited with Shawn, they said.

"There was that split second of shock," Mr Akers said. "Once I saw the face, I said 'Oh God, that's my son'."

Shawn, much bigger than the pictures on the missing posters, did not speak but seemed at ease as his mother kept hugging him.

Shawn Hornbeck, missing since 2002
Shawn Hornbeck had not been seen since October 2002

"We're glad to have him home. I still feel like I'm in a dream, only this time it's a good dream, not the nightmare I've had four-and-a-half years," she said.

Mr Akers said Shawn seemed to be in good health and spirits. On the way home after being discovered, Shawn's first request was to stop to get something to eat at McDonalds, which his father said he took as a good sign.

The family had no immediate plans, Mr Akers said, but they would go shopping and buy clothes "as the old stuff doesn't fit him".

Shawn's rescue came as police were looking for Ben Ownby, 13, who had vanished earlier in the week.

Neighbours bemused

Michael Devlin's flat near St Louis was searched after police noticed that his white van matched the description of one seen when Ben vanished near his school bus.

As far as I knew, that was his son living with him
Bill Romer

Neighbours spoke of their surprise at the news that Mr Devlin - the manager of a pizza shop and a part-time funeral home worker - had managed to keep both boys in his home.

Landlord Bill Romer said he met a boy - apparently Shawn Hornbeck - at the flat while visiting to fix a plumbing problem.

"As far as I knew, that was his son living with him. The kid's bedroom didn't even have curtains on the windows."

Another neighbour, Rick Butler, also assumed the pair were father and son, and recalled finding the teenager's mobile phone outside the flat one day.

"I didn't see or hear anything odd or unusual from the apartment," he said.

Missing children

In the St Louis area, there was unreserved joy at the news that both boys had been found safe.

Suspect Michael Devlin
Police and the FBI are looking into Michael Devlin's background
Ben Ownby's disappearance on Tuesday had sparked a major hunt in the area around his home.

Prayer vigils were held and "missing" posters were fixed to walls around town.

But police out hunting for Ben Ownby were not expecting to find Shawn Hornbeck alongside him.

In the years after their son went missing, Shawn's parents, Pam and Craig Akers, devoted themselves to missing child cases.

Craig Akers left his job to devote his time to a foundation bearing his son's name.

They used up their savings, borrowed money and talked to psychics, until the financial strain forced them back to work, the Associated Press reported.

Gary Toelke, a local sheriff said officers had been "just on cloud nine" since the discovery of the boys.

The authorities say they are still investigating the motive behind the abductions.

US Sheriff describes the emotional state of the boys

Missing US teens discovered alive
13 Jan 07 |  Americas
In pictures: Missing son's return
13 Jan 07 |  In Pictures

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