Hours before 13-year-old Ben Ownby was rescued, his family’s living room was a desparate place, filled with volunteers folding fliers with his photo on them.
On Saturday, it was filled with cousins, friends, aunts, uncles and neighbors who threw a quiet “welcome home” celebration for the teen, who was found Jan. 12 at a suburban St. Louis apartment after a five-day disappearance.
“Whoa. There are lot of people here I do not know,” he said, grinning and stopping in his tracks. The party greeted him as he returned home after a long day of Boy Scout training, where he was working to earn a merit badge in First Aid.
The party was one small step in the family’s long road back to life as they knew it just three weeks ago before Ben was abducted.
His parents, Don and Doris, have been taking baby steps with Ben. He’s been pushing hard to go back to school — they’re letting him do homework and sending him to counseling instead. Ben’s uncle, Loyd Bailie, said therapists have told them not to rush it.
Ben still hasn’t talked to his parents about what happened between Jan. 8, the Monday afternoon he disappeared, and the Friday evening when police and FBI agents rescued him.
Authorities say 41-year-old Michael Devlin kidnapped Ben and hid him in his suburban St. Louis apartment. Devlin kept 15-year-old Shawn Hornbeck captive there for four years, authorities say. Both boys were rescued and returned to their parents.
‘Now we’ve got Ben back’
More than a dozen of Ben’s relatives chipped in to get him a gift for the party. Still wearing his Boy Scout uniform, Ben sat down in front of everyone and began opening it, digging through a big blue bag beneath wads of red paper.
Behind his glasses, his eyes grew wide.
“Oh my God,” he said.
“What is it?” someone called.
“The Wii,” he said in shock, referring to the newest Nintendo video game system.
An avid player, Ben said he wants to design video games when he grows up. And be a pilot.
Don Ownby said he and Doris are settling back into their routines. But life isn’t the same after four horrible days of wondering if they would ever see their son again. But it has changed their perspective.
“Now we’ve got Ben back. We don’t have any real problems,” he said.