BEAUFORT, Mo. – Don Ownby stood in his front yard and waved as Mitchell Hults drove by in his beat up pickup truck. Don didn't have a lot of time to chat; he would leave soon to take his 13-year-old son, Ben Ownby, to baseball practice.
"We're trying to get back to normal," Ownby said Thursday.
Just four months ago life was anything but normal here. Authorities say Michael Devlin kidnapped Ben after he got off the school bus just a few hundred feet from where Ownby stood. Hults spotted a truck speeding from the scene that led police to Devlin's apartment in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood, where they also found 15-year-old Shawn Hornbeck on Jan. 12.
While prosecutors move forward with a massive, multi-jurisdictional case against Devlin, Ben and Shawn Hornbeck are tying to rebuild their lives.
Ben, who was missing four days, has immersed himself in the life he knew before he was abducted Jan. 8. He was eager to get back to school — his parents even forced him to slow down and stay home a few days — and he has settled into class as if he had never been gone, according to his principal.
Shawn, who was missing four years, has returned to an entirely new life. The home from which he disappeared in 2002 has been replaced with a new house, courtesy of a St. Louis homebuilder.
Shawn's new basement is now the main office for the foundation his parents started to find him. Even though he's home, the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation is expanding under a broadened mission.
On Monday, Devlin will be arraigned in Washington County on charges that he kidnapped, sexually abused and then tried to kill Shawn.
He is also facing charges in Franklin County for kidnapping Ben and faces 71 counts of forcible sodomy and kidnapping in St. Louis County, where he allegedly kept the boys. Devlin faces federal charges of making child pornography and transporting Shawn across state lines.
It is The Associated Press' policy not to identify most alleged victims of sexual abuse, but the boys' stories have been widely publicized and their names are now well-known. Both Shawn and Ben's parents are keeping the boys out of the media spotlight, so neither could be interviewed. Both boys are in counseling to help them cope with their ordeal, according to friends and family.
Shawn didn't attend school for the years he was captive in Devlin's home. Now 15, Shawn has undergone an educational assessment that shows he is highly intelligent although far behind his peers academically, said Scott Sherman, an attorney who represents the family.
Shawn is being tutored at home and has excelled at math, Sherman said. His parents have taken him to movies and restaurants, though Shawn is recognized nearly everywhere he goes.
"They have had no incidents of anybody being anything but kind and supportive," Sherman said.
Ben doesn't seem to have missed a beat since he was gone, Don Ownby said.
Ben has continued his Boy Scout activities, Little League baseball games and has gone on a few camping trips with his father. While the routine is the same, Don Ownby says he sees things differently now.
"You really do appreciate some of those times now that you might have taken for granted before," Don Ownby said.
Devlin's attorneys have received about 2,000 pages of evidence that state and federal authorities have amassed against their client. One of his attorneys, Ethan Corlija, said it would be wrong to assume Devlin's case is a "slam dunk" that might be finished in one deal between all the jurisdictions.
"I think (Devlin) understands that there is a long road ahead of us," Corlija said. "He's anxious to get his side across in this situation."
While Devlin's legal proceedings move forward, Shawn's parents, Pam and Craig Akers, are focusing on the foundation and considering a plan to open chapters around the nation.
"It would be a shame to take all we learned and just throw that away," Craig Akers said.
Shawn's return has given the foundation a jolt of attention and donations. Akers wouldn't discuss specific financial figures but said money has been coming from around the country. Akers still works his 40-hour-a-week job as a software consultant to pay the bills.
Mitchell Hults, meanwhile, says he has learned the importance of keeping an eye out for suspicious activity. His observations were key to finding the boys, and they also won Mitchell some fame. He still gets congratulations from students at school and was given a new Dodge Ram pickup truck by the Chrysler Group.
Yet Mitchell drives the rusted-out Chevy. The new pickup is parked at home.
"I want to keep the miles off of it."