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Parents think Shawn Hornbeck was sexually assaulted

Craig and Pam Akers sit with Shawn Hornbeck (c) during an interview with Oprah Winfrey, which will air today. (photo from oprah.com)
Craig and Pam Akers sit with Shawn Hornbeck (c) during an interview with Oprah Winfrey, which will air today. (photo from oprah.com)


Union, MO – The parents of Shawn Hornbeck told Oprah Winfrey in an interview airing today (Thursday) that they believe he was sexually assaulted during the more than four years he was held captive.

Craig and Pam Akers nodded affirmatively when Winfrey asked whether they believe the boy had been sexually assaulted. The program was taped Wednesday.

Pam Akers told Winfrey she believes the boy will eventually talk about what he went through after his abduction Oct. 2, 2002, while riding his bike near his home in Richwoods, Mo. He was 11 at the time he was taken.

In a taped interview that aired on the program, Shawn said he prayed continuously he would be freed. "I prayed that one day my parents would find me and I'd be united," he told Winfrey.

Michael Devlin, the pizzeria worker accused of abducting Shawn, was arraigned Thursday in the kidnapping of another boy, Ben Ownby, 13, of Beaufort, Mo. Ben was abducted Jan. 8. Both boys were found in Devlin's apartment Friday in the St. Louis suburb Kirkwood.

At the arraignment, Devlin pleaded not guilty.

Devlin, also a part-time funeral home employee, remained in the Franklin County Jail during the arraignment, appearing through a video hookup. He is jailed on $1 million bond.

Devlin stood with his hands folded in front of his stomach, wearing orange jail-issued clothing. He mostly responded to the judge's questions with yes or no answers and did not make a statement.

Devlin's defense attorneys told reporters they wanted the case moved from Franklin County.

"There's no way we can get a fair trial in this county with the amount of attention it's gotten," defense attorney Michael Kielty said.

Devlin was also charged Wednesday in the Shawn Hornbeck abduction. A probable cause statement released by Washington County prosecutor John Rupp said Devlin "abducted SDH utilizing force for the purpose of terrorizing the victim. After securing SDH, Michael Devlin flourished a handgun in order to gain compliance of the minor child.

"Michael Devlin then transported him out of the county and concealed his whereabouts for four years and three months."

Washington County Sheriff Kevin Schroeder called Shawn "very strong" and "very articulate," but said investigators are being careful not to push him too hard because of his age.

"Give Shawn some time and proceed through this thing slowly," Schroeder said. "He's been away from his family four-and-a-half years. We've got to give him some time to rejoin that family unit.

"This is something so bizarre that the normal individual cannot grasp what this then-11-year-old boy went through."

Shawn told Winfrey he was not ready to discuss details of his abduction and the subsequent 51 months he spent living with his accused kidnapper. Winfrey said the boy told her off-camera that he was "terrified" to contact his parents during the last four years.

Shawn's parents told Winfrey they have not asked their son what happened on the advice of child advocacy experts, but are convinced their son did not contact them out of fear for his life, theirs or other members of their family.

Devlin also is under investigation in the 1991 disappearance of another Missouri boy who has not been found, The Associated Press has learned. Devlin is the "most viable lead" in the case of Charles Arlin Henderson, who was 11 when he disappeared in 1991 and has never been found, Lincoln County sheriff's deputies said.

Charles Arlin Henderson, known as Arlin, was, like Ben and Shawn, about 100 pounds and from a rural town about an hour from St. Louis. Both Shawn and Arlin vanished at age 11 while riding their bikes.

"If you were to take a photo of Arlin Henderson and you place it next to Shawn's picture, there is a striking resemblance," Lincoln County sheriff's Lt. Rick Harrell said.

Investigators began re-examining the 1991 case after Devlin's arrest. Detective Chris Bartlett said a witness saw a man snapping photos of Arlin before the Moscow Mills boy vanished.

Arlin's uncle, James McWilliams, said the boy came home from school a few months before he disappeared and told his mother a "tall, thin man" had been taking pictures of him.

Asked whether the man's description fit that of Devlin, who stands about 6-foot-4 and weighs around 300 pounds, Bartlett said: "It matched the description enough that we have to pursue him as the most viable lead."

"We've got other indications that cause us to be concerned with this," he added. He refused to elaborate.

Franklin County Sheriff Gary Toelke said his office and the FBI were investigating whether Devlin might have been involved in other abductions. FBI spokesman Pete Krusing would not discuss whether the agency was investigating a link between Devlin and the 1991 case.

Note: The Oprah Winfrey Show will air in St. Louis at 4:00 p.m. on KSDK-Channel 5.