Tue, Jan 16, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Questions remain after kidnapper arrest in US


Police officer Gary Wagster spent all night on Thursday watching Michael Devlin's apartment. He suspected Devlin might be holding 13-year-old Ben Ownby captive inside, and Wagster was worried what the 135kg man might do to the boy.

Wagster's suspicions ultimately ended one of the US' strangest kidnapping cases and improbably brought Ownby and Shawn Hornbeck -- another eastern Missouri child missing since 2002 -- back to their families.

Suspicion had started earlier on Thursday when Wagster and his partner saw that Devlin's truck matched the description of one seen speeding from the site of Ownby's disappearance last Monday.

A neighbor said the truck belonged to Devlin and the officers saw him leave his apartment to empty his trash into a trash bin. They questioned Devlin in the parking lot and he was friendly and cooperative.

Devlin's demeanor quickly changed when the officers started asking him specific questions, Wagster said. He became agitated and defensive.

"It was a total 180 degrees from where he was," Wagster said.

With red flags raised, Wagster reported the find to FBI agents and Franklin County sheriff's deputies who were leading the hunt for Ownby.

When agents arrived on Thursday evening, Devlin would not let them into his apartment, said a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation, who refused to be identified.

By the time Devlin, a pizza parlor manager, left for work on Friday morning, local police had staked out his apartment and the FBI agents were investigating him.

FBI agents walked into Imo's Pizza in Kirkwood on Friday morning to interview Devlin.

A probable cause statement said Devlin admitted to kidnapping Ownby, who vanished days earlier after getting off the school bus near his home in Beaufort, Missouri.

When agents entered Devlin's apartment, they found Ownby inside. They also found Hornbeck. Authorities at first did not recognize Hornbeck, who disappeared at age 11 while on a bike ride but was now a gangly 15-year-old with floppy hair and a pierced lip. He told them his identity when agents entered the apartment.

Devlin was jailed on US$1 million bond and was awaiting arraignment on one charge of kidnapping. More charges were likely, authorities said.

But the arrest raised more questions than it answered.

Authorities did not say how Devlin kept the boys confined in his home. Hornbeck seemed to have had every chance to escape during his captivity.

He was left alone for hours to ride his bike, play videogames and walk past missing-child posters showing his own age-progressed image.

But mental health experts said this troubling case was hardly so simple and that Hornbeck was likely kept mentally shackled by terror and domination from the man accused of kidnapping him.

"I think it's a real mistake to judge this child. Whatever he did to this point to stay alive is to his credit," said Terri Weaver, an associate psychology professor at Saint Louis University.

Weaver, a specialist on post traumatic stress disorder, said children in such situations kick into survival mode, "doing what needs to be done to keep yourself going day-to-day."

Internet profiles posted as far back as two years ago that were created using pictures of Hornbeck emerged over the weekend when a blog mentioned them. A Kirkwood detective said Sunday that he had heard about the profiles but did not know what role they might be playing in the investigation.

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