Devlin charged with abduction of Shawn Hornbeck

Thursday, January 18, 2007
Washington County Prosecuting Attorney John Rupp announced new charges against Michael Devlin as Washington County Sheriff Kevin Schroeder, left, listened Wednesday in Potosi, Mo. (Jeff Roberson ~ Associated Press)

He faces arraignment today in the kidnapping of 13-year-old Ben Ownby.

POTOSI, Mo. -- The pizzeria worker already charged with kidnapping Ben Ownby is now charged with the abduction of Shawn Hornbeck, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Washington County prosecutor John Rupp said Michael Devlin, 41, was charged with kidnapping and armed criminal action.

A probable-cause statement released by Rupp said Devlin abducted Shawn "utilizing force for the purpose of terrorizing the victim." After securing the boy, 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."

Devlin faces arraignment today in the Jan. 8 kidnapping of 13-year-old Ben Ownby of Beaufort. Shawn was abducted Oct. 6, 2002. Both boys were found Friday at Devlin's apartment in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood.

Separate proceedings

The case will proceed separately from the charges in Franklin County, where Ben was abducted, Rupp said. An arraignment date on the new charges has not been set.

Rupp and Sheriff Kevin Schroeder would say little about the case beyond the probable-cause statement. "Our case hinges on many factors," Rupp said. "Some of the factors will be witness testimony."

Rupp dismissed speculation that Shawn ran away on his own.

"Shawn was abducted against his will," Rupp said. "Period. End of story."

Schroeder said Shawn "seems to be a very strong young man. He's a very articulate young man."

"I think Shawn's doing very well."

But because of his age and what he's been through, Schroeder said investigators are being careful not to push Shawn too hard, too fast.

"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.

'So bizarre'

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

Schroeder would not say if Shawn was held captive at the Kirkwood apartment for the entire time.

Schroeder said a task force with investigators from the FBI, Missouri State Highway Patrol, and Franklin, Washington and St. Louis counties has been set up to work on the case.

Earlier Wednesday, authorities in Lincoln County, northwest of St. Louis, said Devlin is now the "most viable lead" in the investigation into the 1991 disappearance of Charles Arlin Henderson, of Moscow Mills, who has never been found.

The boy's disappearance was identical to Shawn's in many respects. Both boys vanished at the age of 11 while riding their bikes on a rural road. Both boys were slight, weighing about 100 pounds, and had close-cropped hair.

"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 Lt. Rick Harrell said.

Ben is 13, but also weighs about 100 pounds.

Lincoln County investigators began re-examining the Henderson case after Devlin's arrest. Detective Chris Bartlett said a witness saw a man snapping photos of Arlin before the boy vanished. Rupp and Schroeder said they have not spoken with Lincoln County authorities to compare notes.

A close description

Asked whether the man's description fit that of Devlin, who stands about 6-foot-4 and weighs around 300 pounds, Bartlett declined to get specific.

"I will say that it matched the description enough that we have to pursue [Devlin] as the most viable lead," he said.

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

While Devlin had a clean criminal record except for traffic offenses, it's unlikely someone would commit such brazen kidnappings without any precedent, Toelke suggested.

"There are the possibilities that there may be other kids involved," Toelke said.

Devlin's attorneys, Ethan Corlija and Michael Kielty, didn't return a message seeking comment Wednesday.

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