BEAUFORT, Mo. – Two boys kidnapped four years apart and found in the same suburban St. Louis apartment smiled shyly but said nothing to media at two hug-filled news conferences Saturday, a day after they were rescued.
The boys' parents clung to them and focused on their joy at the shocking outcome, saying little about the 41-year-old man charged in the case or how the teens were treated.
"I still feel like I'm in a dream, only this time it's a good dream, not the nightmare I've had four-and-a-half years," Hornbeck's mother, Pam Akers, said Saturday at an elementary school adorned with balloons and welcome-home signs.
Hornbeck's stepfather, Craig Akers, said he and his wife were in disbelief when they were reunited with the boy.
"There was that split second of shock," he said. "Once I saw the face, I said, 'Oh my God, that's my son."'
Hornbeck smiled often, his mother's arm draped around him, and seemed at ease. He was much bigger than pictures of the missing 11-year-old, his hair darker and longer.
Hornbeck and Ownby disappeared 4 1/2 years and 40 miles apart, though both were last seen in towns within 60 miles of St. Louis.
A routine search warrant led police to investigate the Kirkwood, Mo., apartment of Michael Devlin, an Imo's Pizza manager and part-time funeral home worker. He was charged with first-degree kidnapping and bail was set at $1 million.
Ownby grinned broadly as his mother recalled that soon after his return home, Ben immediately went to the computer to play video games.
"We're just ecstatic," Doris Ownby said. "Don't want to let him go out of our sight."
Authorities declined to offer further details about Devlin. FBI Special Agent Roland Corvington said federal charges were possible.
The key to finding the boys was a beat-up white pickup truck spotted by a schoolmate of Ownby's who got off the bus at the same time. The friend saw the pickup speeding away about the time Ownby vanished from the gravel road near his home.
On Thursday night, Kirkwood city police officers saw a white truck matching the description. They traced the owner, contacted the Franklin County Sheriff's Department, then searched Devlin's home Friday and found the boys.
There were no details about what police found inside the apartment or how or why the boys might have been detained. Franklin County Prosecutor Robert Parks said more charges are likely.
In Kirkwood, one of Devlin's neighbors, Rick Butler, 43, said FBI agents came to his door Thursday night and showed him a picture of Ben.
He said he had not seen the boy but had seen another boy he believes was Hornbeck. He said he saw no evidence that the boy was scared or trying to get away. He even saw Devlin and the teen pitch a tent in the courtyard.
"I didn't see or hear anything odd or unusual from the apartment," Butler said. "I just figured them for father and son."