Image: Shawn Hornbeck
Tom Gannam  /  AP
Shawn Hornbeck, 15, the Missouri boy whose rescue after years of captivity drew international attention, has been tutored privately since his return but is doing so well academically that he may attend a private school in the fall, his stepfather said Monday.
updated 7/10/2007 3:52:46 PM ET 2007-07-10T19:52:46

A teenager found more than four years after he was abducted from his hometown has been tutored privately since his astonishing return home in January and may attend a private school in the fall, his stepfather said Monday.

The family deliberates daily about what’s best for Shawn Hornbeck, now 15, whose incidental rescue after years of captivity drew international attention.

“Initially, we thought this would be the easy part,” said Craig Akers, whose stepson did not attend classes while missing. Readjustment, he said, “is difficult in its own way.”

“There’s not a handbook on how to deal with this.”

The comments came a day after Shawn, his family and others cleaned up damage after vandals struck a memorial that had been built in his honor in his rural hometown of Richwoods when he was missing. Police continued to search for suspects Monday after someone drove over the site.

Shawn was 11 when he was abducted while riding his bike near his home in October 2002. In January this year, another boy, 13-year-old Ben Ownby, had been missing for four days when police searched the suburban St. Louis apartment of Michael Devlin, a 41-year-old pizzeria manager. Police were startled to find both boys inside. Devlin is charged with kidnapping and sexual abuse and has pleaded not guilty.

While it is The Associated Press’ policy not to identify suspected victims of sexual abuse in most cases, the story of Shawn and Ben has been widely publicized and their names are now well-known.

Readjustments all around
Shawn, who has not done interviews since shortly after he was rescued, hopes to graduate from a public high school with his former classmates, Akers said. The family is considering a private school with limited class sizes for the coming school year. He has done well in his studies, especially in science and math.

“It would be feasible for him to rejoin his grade level some time next year,” Akers said.

Shawn is also doing well socially, Akers said. He loves to ride his all-terrain vehicle and is hoping for a motocross bike for his 16th birthday next week. His parents have allowed overnight stays with friends, but he is always supervised and in the presence of a relative or family friend.

Akers said he and his wife, Pam, know that will have to change eventually. “As you can imagine, it’s hard to let him out of your sight,” he said.

Image: Shawn Hornbeck memorial
Jeff Roberson  /  AP
A bench and a tree planted after the 2002 disappearance of Shawn Hornbeck sit behind the Lions Club, in this January 2007 photo in his hometown of Richwoods, Mo. Hornbeck, his family and others cleaned up damage after vandals struck a memorial that had been built in his honor.
In public, some people whisper and point, or approach Shawn and want to shake his hand. The attention can make Shawn uncomfortable, but he understands “he’s been part of a lot of people’s lives,” Akers said.

Celebrities reach out
Among those reaching out to the boy have been celebrities. Shawn met skateboarding legend Tony Hawk last month. He and his friends got basketball tips from former St. Louis University and Boston Celtics star Ed Macauley. His family tries to keep such meetings, which happened in the St. Louis area, out of the public eye.

“When we do take advantage of an offer, it’s to let Shawn enjoy something he normally wouldn’t have an opportunity to do,” Akers said.

In the future, Akers said, it’s possible Shawn will be more active in the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation, started by the family after Shawn’s disappearance to support child safety and aid in the search for missing children.

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