WEBSTER GROVES, Mo. – By most accounts, Michael Devlin had a childhood a lot of kids might envy.
An early life in sprawling, graceful homes in one of St. Louis' finest suburbs. A ready-made group of friends in his five siblings. And model-citizen parents whose life centered on their two biological daughters and four adopted sons, neighbors and one of Devlin's brothers say.
Curiosity about Devlin's behavior and background have been running high since the stunning Jan. 12 discovery of 15-year-old Shawn Hornbeck and 13-year-old Ben Ownby inside Devlin's apartment in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood.
Ben was found four days after he vanished outside his rural Franklin County home. Shawn disappeared in 2002 near his home in Washington County.
Devlin, 41, has pleaded not guilty to kidnapping Ben, and his arraignment in Shawn's case is set for Wednesday.
Adopted as an infant, Devlin knew no other family than the one James and Joyce Devlin carefully nurtured in this middle-American, progressive community.
Webster Groves, home to a private university, a seminary and an all-girls Catholic school, was in the national spotlight a year after Michael Devlin's birth in 1965 in an award-winning documentary narrated by Charles Kuralt that criticized it as status-oriented and materialistic.
But Joyce and James Devlin, a stay-at-home mom and an insurance executive, used their ample resources to provide a happy life for their kids. The couple even became foster parents and adopted 5-year-old Brian, who recalled family vacations at the Devlins' Lake Michigan cottage as the happiest times of his life.
Joyce Devlin ran a daycare in the home, then as the kids left the nest, she resumed her own studies in childhood development and education and became a teacher at a pricey private school. Former colleagues at The College School said Joyce Devlin was passionate about children.
The Webster-Kirkwood Times would later honor the Devlins for their 50 years of marriage and involvement with children.
"They were the nicest people you'd ever want to meet," former neighbor Jack Seibert said.
Which makes the discovery of the two boys in Michael Devlin's apartment all the more mystifying.
"It's shocking," said former neighbor Antonietta Corno. "It's something I don't know how you'd ever understand. You'd have to be a really good shrink to know what caused this."
On the advice of attorneys, Michael Devlin refused an interview with The Associated Press this week, as did his parents and family members, except for Brian Devlin.
Brian Devlin, who lives an hour outside of St. Louis and is estranged from his adoptive family, said he couldn't have asked for better parents.
"There was a lot of love in the house," he said. "They did everything in the world for me.
"They are really good people. I don't want anyone to think badly of them."
Brian Devlin said he has no memory of his brother Michael behaving badly at home. Brian said he, not Michael, was the problem child, hanging out with the wrong crowd in his early teens, drinking and using drugs and putting their parents "through a whole lot of grief, though nothing near what they're going through now."
Brian Devlin left home at 17. A series of arrests for drunken driving eventually led to 18 months in a Missouri prison, but a fall in 2001 that nearly killed him forced changes in his life, and he said he has been sober since.
Brian Devlin has had only infrequent contact with the family since leaving home. He last saw his brother Michael 20 years ago at the Imo's pizzeria where Michael worked his way up to manager. He said Michael didn't acknowledge him that day, but maybe, he reasoned, because Brian had been drinking.
He described his younger brother, Michael, as a normal kid, "a quiet dude," who was somewhat big for his age, who had no friends aside from his siblings. Michael attended both Catholic and public schools, and graduated from Webster High.
Brian Devlin said he can't believe, and doesn't want to believe, that the younger brother he once played Army men and fixed bikes with kidnapped Shawn and Ben and used a gun to kidnap Shawn, as alleged by the Washington County prosecutor.
"We never used guns, there were no guns in the house," Brian Devlin said.
"We were a very Catholic, very Christian family. They were great people, well respected. Everything came from their heart, which is why they adopted kids.
"Whatever Michael did, he did it outside of that house. That was a really good household."
Authorities found the boys in Devlin's Kirkwood apartment, just miles from his childhood home.
"I'm trying to come up with some reason why," Brian Devlin said. "I'm trying to give Michael the benefit of the doubt."
Brian Devlin said he feels "really sorry" for the Devlin family, and is certain "it's tearing everybody up."
None of the Devlins has visited Michael Devlin, according to visitor records at the Franklin County jail. Even Brian Devlin said he has nothing to say to his brother.
Michael Devlin told The New York Post that he didn't know how he would explain himself to his parents.
"It's much easier talking to a stranger about these things than your own parents," he said.