1. Headline
  1. Headline

Video: Hornbeck credits family in surviving abduction

  1. Closed captioning of: Hornbeck credits family in surviving abduction

    >>> no harsh side effects . miralax.

    >>> three years ago today, the nation was transfixed by the miraculous rescue of shawn hornbeck . the missouri boy had been kidnapped in 2002 and spent more than fur years suffering unspeakable abuse at the hands of his abductor. today, shawn is a college student working to make sure that other children never go through what he did. we're going to talk to him and his parents exclusively in just a moment, but first, nbc's john yang has his story.

    >> reporter: the public service announcement is powerfully simple.

    >> if you see something, say something.

    >> reporter: shawn hornbeck knows what he's talking about. three years ago this week, a stranger saw something and said something, leading authorities to rescue the teen after 4 1/2 years of abuse at the hands of a kidnapper he later called a monster. the discovery stunned officials.

    >> we have some good news for you this evening and probably some unbelievable news.

    >> reporter: and thrilled his parents.

    >> miracles do happen. good things can happen. they don't always end bad.

    >> reporter: his ordeal began in october 2002 , when shawn , then 11, disappeared while riding his bike. an exhaustive search turned up nothing.

    >> we just have to keep telling ourselves that he is okay.

    >> reporter: as the search continued, days turned into weeks into months and into years. the big break came in january 2007 when another young boy in the same area went missing, 13-year-old ben ownby . one of his school mates spoke up about something, a white pickup truck he had seen on the rural road where ben was last seen getting off a school bus . that led investigators to an apartment where he found then, and unbelievably, shawn . shawn 's parents got the phone call they had been dreaming of for years.

    >> the next words were "we think we found shawn . we're 95% sure that we found shawn and that he's alive." and those were the sweetest words i've ever heard in my life.

    >> reporter: the truck's owner, michael devlin , was arrested and later pleaded guilty to dozens of accounts of sexual assault, kidnapping and attempted murder. he's serving multiple life sentences in prison.

    >> this is -- this guy is evil. this is evil incarnate . you'll never see anybody worse than this.

    >> reporter: the foundation shawn 's parents established to press their search for him now works to find other missing children .

    >> always know where your child is.

    >> reporter: and prevent abductions. the legacy of a four-year ordeal and a miraculous rescue. for "today," john yang , nbc news.

    >> shawn hornbeck and his parents, pam and craig akers are now joining us exclusively. good morning to all of you.

    >> good morning, ann.

    >> good morning.

    >> good morning.

    >> i know, shawn , that you don't really want to talk about what happened during those 4 1/2 years, and frankly, i don't think anybody could blame you, but could you talk little bit about -- because i'm sure it's so hard to just watch that tape we just showed people -- could you talk a little bit about what allowed you to survive?

    >> well, what really made me hold on strong is knowing that my parents will always look for me, just because i've always just had one of the best connections a kid could have with his parents, you know. because people talk about the great strength that's between a mother and a father and then the kid with that along with it, but with my family, it's just always been family's number one, always there for each other. and it's just the strength that i could feel from my family, even though i was so far away .

    >> we're noticing now you're holding your mother's hand, and pam , hearing your son say that right now, hearing him say that all those years of your building that love with him helped sustain him through some of the worst years that anyone can imagine, what does that mean to you as a mother?

    >> it just makes me so proud and i'm just so glad that he feels that way. we always try to, you know, express how much a family means and a love between a family. and you know, before he was taken, no matter what, every day when we would leave the house or anybody would leave, the last thing we would say to somebody was "i love you," because for some reason or another, you never know if that's going to be the last time. and i was just so thankful that that was one of the last things that i did say to him before he left and that was one of the first things that i said to him when he came home.

    >> aww. and craig , you know, in my reading, i was noticing, in fact, that you know, shawn gave his mom a kiss and this really was something you guys did all the time, and that's a great lesson, i think, for all of us, but how did you help shawn ? because shawn is saying that the two of you helped him come back and to come back to a normal life . what did you do?

    >> well, we just made sure that we had everything in place that he needed to be able to deal with the situation and coming out of it. you know, what happened to him was extremely traumatic, and it's something that you just can't deal with on your own. we were really fortunate that after a little bit of searching, we found some very good professional help, therapists that were able to connect with shawn and give him ways to work himself through this and put that behind him and make it something that happened to him, not something that determined what shawn was going to be.

    >> and here's what is really remarkable, that shawn , despite your losing 4 1/2 years of schooling, you actually graduated a semester ahead of your high school class and you're now in college and you've made this psa announcement for the foundation that your parents have started to try to help other kids. how is this affecting what you want to do with your life, shawn ?

    >> well, really, when you enjoy doing something, it doesn't really affect you in any way. like, the foundation's always going to be a part of my life, and wanting to help other missing kids will always be another part of my life. so, really, that psa didn't affect it. it just kind of -- it just made me feel like i'm going another step closer to what i want to do and help with the foundation.

    >> but then how did you graduate -- and i'm trying to -- i guess what i'm trying to get at is, for you to graduate ahead of your class despite being so far behind , for you to be so driven to do so much, what is it that's churning in you that allows you to focus in this way that's making you so successful?

    >> it's really just the motivation. like, when i was younger, yeah, i used to be a little slower with school. i never really enjoyed going to it, but you know, that's what most kids do. but i just kind of realized how important schooling is, and i just -- i don't know, it's like i turned on a few more gears and just kind of put it into overdrive and worked a lot that first summer i was home. i worked that whole summer to catch up with my classmates in schooling. and then i went to a school that specializes in kids with learning disabilities and stuff. so, they were able to work with me one on one and get me the rest of the way where i needed, to where i continued my high school with my actual classmates i went to school with when i was 11. and it's just being around them, i guess, i just felt more at ease and normal to where i could relax and just go on with a high school life and just really -- it was really when i got caught up, it was just all easy going and natural, but i still worked to get to where i am today.

    >> well, shawn hornbeck , it's going to be amazing to see what you do next, and thanks so much for talking to us and showing us the value of a family's love. and thanks to you, pam and craig akers, for that as well. thanks so much.

    >> thank you.

    >> thank you.

    >> to learn more about the shawn hornbeck foundation , you can head to our website at todayshow.com.

    >>> and coming up next, we're

By
TODAY contributor
updated 1/13/2010 9:43:54 AM ET 2010-01-13T14:43:54

For four and a half years, the boy was tortured, terrorized and sexually abused. And the only thing that he had to cling to was what ultimately saved him — the love of his family.

“What really made me hold on strong was just knowing that my parents will always look for me, just because I’ve always had just one of the best connections a kid could have with his parents,” 18-year-old Shawn Hornbeck told TODAY’s Ann Curry Wednesday from his home in Richwoods, Mo. “With my family, it’s just always been ‘family’s number one.’ We’re always there for each other. It’s just the strength I could feel [from] my family, even though I was so far away.”

Shawn was speaking on the third anniversary of his rescue. The 11-year-old boy who was kidnapped in the fall of 2002 has grown into a handsome and dark-haired 18-year-old. Despite not going to school during his captivity, he has graduated high school a semester ahead of his class, is very big on cars and girls, and is attending community college.

He was flanked by his parents, Craig and Pam Akers, and as he talked, he held his mother’s hand.

  1. Stories from
    1. Princess Kate's Perky Pony Is the Perfect Hairstyle for Your Holiday
    2. Eliza Coupe Engaged to Darin Olien
    3. Widower Says Brittany Maynard 'Gave Her Husband a Gift' with Decision to End Her Life
    4. The Obamas Are Eating More Pie Than You Could Imagine on Thanksgiving
    5. Katy Perry, Here's a Super Bowl Halftime Performance Game Plan For You

“It just makes me so proud and just so glad that he feels that way,” Pam Akers said. “Before he was taken, no matter what, every day when we would leave the house or anybody would leave, the last thing we’d say to somebody is, ‘I love you,’ because you never know if that’s going to be the last time. I’m just so thankful that was one of the last things that I did say to him before he left, and one of the first things I said to him when he came home.”

Torture and terror
Shawn was abducted on Oct. 6, 2002, while riding his bike near his home in Richwoods, Mo. His abductor, pizza-parlor manager Michael Devlin, tortured, terrorized and sexually abused Shawn and threatened to kill him if he ever told anyone who he was.

Video: Shawn Hornbeck: One year later

Under constant fear that Devlin would carry through on his threats, Shawn lived with Devlin in an apartment in suburban St. Louis for four and a half years. The apartment was only an hour away from his home.

The abduction and subsequent manhunt riveted the nation’s attention. But as the search for Shawn continued to be fruitless, at least one self-described psychic announced on national television that Shawn was dead. Still, even then, his parents never gave up hope.

The break in the case came on Jan. 8, 2007, when Devlin abducted 13-year-old Ben Ownby. Witnesses gave police a description of a truck seen in the area of the abduction.

The owner of the pizza parlor that Devlin managed realized the truck’s description matched Devlin’s vehicle. His suspicions heightened because Devlin called in sick for work for two days, the store owner called police.

Image: Michael Devlin
Jeff Roberson  /  AP
Michael Devlin, who held Shawn Hornbeck captive for four and a half years, is escorted out of a Missouri courthouse under heavy security in October 2007.
When police went to Devlin’s apartment, they found both Ben Ownby and Shawn Hornbeck. Devlin was charged with 80 counts of sexual assault, kidnapping and attempted murder. He pleaded guilty to the charges and is serving 72 life terms and an additional 170 years in prison.

Catching up
The Akers’ joy at being reunited with Shawn was tempered by the knowledge that the boy would require extensive therapy to cope with what had happened to him during his captivity. A major concern was that Shawn would blame himself for not trying to contact his parents.

“What happened to him was extremely traumatic. It’s something that you just can’t deal with on your own,” Craig Akers told Curry. “We were fortunate that after a little bit of searching, we found some very good professional help — therapists that were able to connect with Shawn.”

Video: Missing teen's parents on his return Along with recovering from emotional trauma, Shawn also had a lot of schooling to catch up on. The first summer that he was back home, he immersed himself in the special tutors and schools that were made available to him.

“I worked that whole summer to catch up with my classmates in schooling,” Shawn said. “Then I went to a school that specializes in kids with learning disabilities and stuff. They were able to work with me one on one, to where I was able to continue my high school with my actual classmates that I had when I was 11.”

Shifting into overdrive
Curry asked Shawn what inspired him to work so hard to catch up and then jump ahead.

Image: Shawn Hornbeck
TODAY
Despite having been held captive for four and a half years, Shawn Hornbeck graduated hich school a semester ahead of schedule.
“It’s really just the motivation,” Shawn replied. “When I was younger, I used to be slower at school. I just kind of realized how important school is. It’s like I turned on a few more gears and just kind of put it into overdrive.”

Shawn has also dedicated himself to helping other kids who are abducted as he was. Last year, he contacted Jaycee Dugard, the California woman who had been abducted as a girl and held for 18 years as a sex slave, to help her rejoin her real family and the real world.

His family started a foundation to help such people, the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation, and Shawn recently recorded a public service announcement. In it, after introducing himself, he says:

Video: Hornbeck’s parents: ‘Be patient’ with abductees “When I was 11 years old, I was riding my bike near my home when I was kidnapped by a stranger. I was held captive for four and a half years. If you see something, say something. Reach out to someone. There’s always someone willing to help, and no matter where you are, be aware of your surroundings.”

And, he might have added, never forget the power of a family’s love.

For more information about the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation, click here.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. TODAY

    slideshow See the best of the 2014 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

    11/27/2014 4:30:58 PM +00:00 2014-11-27T16:30:58
  1. Katie Tate, Laura Langan Spoerl,

    Why are you thankful this Thanksgiving? Show us! #WhyImThankful

    11/27/2014 1:41:45 PM +00:00 2014-11-27T13:41:45
  1. TODAY

    video Martha Stewart, Giada answer turkey questions

    11/27/2014 1:15:27 PM +00:00 2014-11-27T13:15:27