This report aired on Dateline Tuesday, January 16
News doesn’t get much better than two Missouri boys back with their families, one after he was missing for four days, the other missing for four years.
We’re learning more about what happened during the teens’ ordeal... and, for the first time, one of the boys is speaking out publicly.
Meredith Vieira talked with Ben and his family, in an exclusive interview—this one far happier than the last time she spoke to his parents.
Meredith Vieira, NBC News: Ben, when I talked to your parents on Friday, one of the things we did was we put up your face. And I described you— "For those of you looking for Ben, he’s got light brown hair, blue eyes, glasses, 13 years old" and then I asked your dad, I said, "What other physical attributes can you use to describe your son?" And without missing a beat he said, “He’s got a great big smile.”
And he’s not the only one. When this miraculous story broke last Friday afternoon, it seemed that a nation, looking for reasons to smile, had found them in rural Missouri.
Ben Ownby, the 13-year-old Missouri boy who’d been missing for four days, had been found alive. His parents got the news they’d prayed for from a sheriff’s deputy.
William "Don" Ownby, Ben's father: The relief was unbelieveable, after what we’d gone through, we still couldn’t hardly believe it.
Vieira: What exactly did the officer say? Do you remember the words?
Doris Ownby, Ben's mother: “We have him.“
Vieira: We have him.
Doris Ownby: And I said, “We have who?” Because I thought he was talking about the bad guy, I didn’t think he was talking about Ben.And then he said “We have Ben,” and I think I screamed.
Authorities discovered Ben in an apartment and arrested Michael Devlin, 41, manager of a local pizza parlor. He was charged with kidnapping Ben. Then, inside the apartment, the law-enforcement officials made another incredible rescue -- another young boy, missing since October 2002.
Now 15, Shawn Hornbeck was 11 when he went missing and was apparently abducted.
Both boys appeared at press conferences with their parents on Saturday, but this is the first time either teen has spoken publicly. I talked to Ben yesterday via satellite. By his side, his parents, Don and Doris, and his 19-year-old sister, Amanda.
Amanda Ownby: I was just so happy to see him, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier in my life.
Vieira (to Ben): You’ve heard what your folks and your sister have said about their first reaction when they saw you after missing you for four days. What was your reaction when you saw them, Ben?
Ben Ownby: Great relief.
Ben’s harrowing ordeal began a week ago when he got off his school bus and started walking alone down this road. He then went out of sight. But moments later, a friend on the bus, Mitchell Hults, noticed in great detail, a white Nissan truck speeding away.
Mitchell Hults: Coming down this road, and I seen a white Nissan pick up sideways in the road down here. I guess it seen me coming it took off down the hill.
The trail went cold for four days until two Missouri police officers, working an unrelated case, saw a white pick-up matching Mitchell’s description near Devlin’s apartment. Later that day, the boys were found.
Vieira: Probably the most important information came from a classmate of Ben’s. What did he do for your family?
Don Ownby: Initially, he give us a lots of hope. If it wasn’t for what Mitchell seen, I don’t know if we’d be sitting here like this talking to you right now.
Vieira: Have you talked with him about all of this? Have you had a chance to talk to him about what he did?
Ben Ownby: No, I talked to his mother.
Vieira: And what did you say to her?
Ben Ownby: I think I told her to... I guess I told her to tell Mitchell thanks, I’ll see him later.
It might be sooner rather than later for all Ben’s classmates if he has his way.
Vieira: Doris, when will Ben go back to school? Have you made a decision about that?
Doris Ownby: No, we’re waiting to talk to counselors.
Vieira: Ben are you ready? Do you feel ready to go back?
Ben Ownby: Yeah. I’m ready.
Ben, a Boy Scout and straight a student with a keen interest in science, also likes collecting miniature airplanes.
Vieira: You have some planes you brought with you? Can I see them?
Ben Ownby: Yeah, military jets.
Vieira: Do you want to be a pilot one day?
Ben Ownby: Not military, just fly myself around, get myself a Cessna.
Vieira: Well, see Mom and Dad, Ben is already moving on. He’s thinking about his future. He’s talking about flying away, what’s it going to be like the first time he walks away from his house by himself?
Doris Ownby: You know, that first day when you send him off to kindergarten, its hard to let him go then. So we’ll have to work through all that again.
Vieira: I know the instinct as a mom would be to almost to tie a rope a rope around his waist and your waist and never let him get too far away.
Doris Ownby: I’ve been trying to think of a way I can go to school with him.
Vieira: What do you think of that Ben?
Ben Ownby: Noooo.
Vieira: Are mom and dad being a little clingy now? Have you had to say to them “It’s okay you can back off a little bit”?
Ben Ownby: I’ve tried to say that.
Spoken like a normal 13-year-old, which is why Ben wants to get back to school as soon as possible.
A lawyer for Michael Devlin says he will plead not guilty to the charge of kidnapping Ben. Devlin is also expected to be charged in Shawn Hornbeck’s kidnapping.
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