Families of kidnapped boys talk to Oprah Winfrey about their ordeal

Thursday, January 18, 2007
Shawn Hornbeck, center, posed with Oprah Winfrey, his aunt, Shari Frazier, left, and his parents, Craig and Pam Akers, right, after taping a segment for The Oprah Winfrey Show in Chicago on Tuesday. (Harpo Productions)

CHICAGO -- The families of two kidnapped Missouri boys found last week -- including one kidnapped 4 1/2 years ago -- made their first extended public appearance Wednesday at a taping of the Oprah Winfrey Show.

But the families of 15-year-old Shawn Hornbeck and 13-year-old Ben Ownby didn't detail their sons' experiences during the show, which airs today, audience members said as they left the studio.

"They're giving them [the boys] space to get back to normal," said Valencia Montgomery of Oak Park. "They're not pressuring them."

Shawn didn't sit on the stage with his mother and stepfather, who said they would allow him to give them details when he's ready. He sat in the front row, gripping his sisters' hands, said Dorothy Hodnichak of Cleveland, Ohio.

Winfrey acknowledged Shawn a few times, although he didn't talk about his experience, audience members said.

She showed excerpts from a previously recorded interview with Shawn, in which he said he was terrified during the years away and prayed his family would find him.

"They never gave up hope," said audience member Ruth Del Rosario of Chicago. "It's a sad story. I'm a mother."

"The thing on everyone's mind is 'Why?"' said Hodnichak, 66, who wondered why Shawn never tried to leave. Neither Shawn nor his family addressed the issue.

Shawn was 11 years old when he went missing Oct. 6, 2002 while riding his bike in Richwoods, Mo., 65 miles southwest of St. Louis. Authorities were surprised to find him late last week while acting on a tip about Ben, who'd been missing since Jan. 8.

Both boys were found in a Kirkwood, Mo., apartment belonging to 41-year-old Michael Devlin, who's been arrested and charged with kidnapping.

Ben's parents also told Winfrey they were grateful for their son's rescue. Ben didn't join them in the studio, but was in another room playing video games, audience member Evelyn Talangbayan said.

Del Rosario and Talangbayan, her sister-in-law, said the show was emotional.

"We were passing tissues back and forth," Talangbayan said.

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