Saturday, January 13, 2007

Miracle in Missouri

Ben Ownby, the 13-year-old boy who disappeared while walking home from his school bus stop Monday afternoon, was FOUND alive and well yesterday, just four days later in an apartment 60 miles from his home in rural Missouri.

But he was not alone. Miraculously, officials found another boy, Shawn Hornbeck, who had been missing for four years since his abduction while riding his bike to a friend's house in October 2002. He was 11 years old at the time. He is now 15.

Police took 41-year-old Michael Devlin into custody. Multiple charges are pending.

I must admit, by Wednesday my hope had faded that Ben would be found alive. My attention turned to the unknown perpetrator(s), praying for discovery and arrest. No one could predict that finding Ben would lead to the rescue of another missing child! Of course, these boys will need psychological assistance, particularly Shawn due to the amount of time he lived with his abductor. But what a double miracle to find these two boys alive, to give them freedom and reunite them with their families. Although too many abductions do not end with good news, that's all the more reason to rejoice that this one did.

Once again, average citizens helped break this case. Mitchell Hults, a 15-year-old student who got off the same bus as Ben, described for police the white pickup truck he noticed driving erratically and speeding away from the area. At least one neighbor admitted seeing the truck earlier that day driving up and down the rural road raising suspicions, but didn't write down the license plate number nor call to report the suspicious activity to police. If anyone had, Ben could have been rescued that same evening. A girl living in the apartment complex where the boys were found told her mother three months ago she thought she recognized Shawn Hornbeck's face from a flyer, but her mother told her, "This is serious, we're not playing." Another resident, Jeff Hadler, told reporters that police came to the complex on an unrelated case Thursday night and he pointed out the truck parked in the lot, wondering if it was like the one reported in the media. Police got a search warrant and swarmed Devlin's apartment the next day--and found the two boys alive.

Once again, regular citizens armed with information from the media made the difference. Those citizens who didn't take time or assumed that what they saw or heard wasn't important, delayed Ben's (and Shawn's) rescue. Fortunately, both Ben and Shawn are alive and back with their families this weekend because Hults and Hadler observed details they reported to police.

"The key to finding the boys was a beat-up white pickup truck spotted by a schoolmate of Ben's who got off the bus at the same time. The friend saw the pickup speeding away...."
Read the ABC News report.

Watch videos of this story, including an interview with Sheriff Gary Toelke (click "Top Videos" and the headline "Extremely Happy Ending").