Abducted teen Shawn Hornbeck was ordered to guard fellow captive Ben Ownby and hide him from police when they were repeatedly left alone in their captor’s apartment, an official close to the investigation told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Shawn’s cooperation stemmed from the isolation and abuse he experienced in the first 30 days after he was kidnapped in 2002, said the official, who requested anonymity, citing a lack of authorization to speak publicly about the case.
Shawn, then 11 years old, was so traumatized after that first month that he began to see Michael Devlin, accused of kidnapping both boys, as his protector and surrogate parent, the official said, adding that such a reaction is common among abuse victims.
“He’s a victim. He was kidnapped. He was taken from his parents. He was forced to live with this guy. He was forced to accommodate,” the official said.
The official would not elaborate on what happened to Shawn when he was first kidnapped, but said details of the abuse and captivity would emerge soon in the case against Devlin. Devlin, a 41-year-old pizzeria manager, is charged with kidnapping Shawn and Ben in separate remote Missouri towns four years apart.
Shawn’s parents have said in a televised interview that while they have not asked their son about his ordeal, they believe he was sexually abused.
Shawn, now 15, was 11 when he was kidnapped in 2002 from near his home in Richwoods. Ben was abducted in Beaufort on Jan. 8, and a white pickup seen speeding away led police to Devlin.
During Ben’s four days of captivity, Shawn helped ensure Ben did not escape during the hours when Devlin was at work, the official said. Devlin worked for a couple of hours on Jan. 10 and all day the next two days, according to his boss at Imo’s Pizza, Mike Prosperi.
The boys were found Jan. 12 at Devlin’s apartment in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood, about an hour from the towns where the boys were taken.
The night before they were discovered, the official said, Shawn answered the door when authorities arrived to question Devlin. Before Shawn answered the door, he and Devlin told Ben to hide behind the door of Devlin’s bedroom and to remain silent. Shawn spoke with the authorities, as did Devlin.
Devlin refused to let authorities enter his home, and officers did not have probable cause at the time to force their entry. The next day, officers raided the home and found the boys.
Scott Sherman, an attorney representing Shawn’s family, did not return messages on Thursday seeking comment.
Devlin’s attorney Michael Kielty, through a spokeswoman, said it is “reprehensible that stories about this case are being told by the government in anonymous leaks.”
Investigators are checking for connections between Devlin and other missing-person cases elsewhere in the country.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Al Nothum, a spokesman for the task force investigating Devlin, said investigators have received calls from other states, but he declined to discuss specific cases.