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Boy in Mo. abduction ready to return to school

Missouri teen Ben Ownby and his family talk about their emotional reunion in an exclusive TODAY interview.  Ben was found by police four days after being abducted from a Beaufort, Mo., bus stop.
/ Source: TODAY

Thirteen-year-old Ben Ownby says he's ready to go back to school, just days after he and another abducted boy who had been missing for four years were rescued by Missouri police.

"Yeah, I’m ready. I just need my backpack," Ben said.

In an interview that aired Tuesday on TODAY, Ben, his sister Amanda, 19, and his parents, William "Don" Ownby and Doris Ownby, talked about the ordeal and the family's joyous reunion Friday at a Missouri police station.

Holding one of the model planes he collects, Ben, a straight-A student who had been missing for four days, grinned and laughed frequently, giving short answers to questions from TODAY's Meredith Vieira.

Asked what his first reaction was upon being united with his family, Ben said, "Great relief." What did he say to his parents? "Nothing much." Just kind of hugged them? "Sure," he said, smiling broadly.

Ben thanked Mitchell Hults, 15, a friend who helped authorities find him by identifying a small white pickup seen speeding away from the Beaufort, Mo., bus stop where Ben disappeared from on Jan. 8. The pickup was spotted a few days later outside an apartment in Kirkwood, a St. Louis suburb.

Ben and Shawn Hornbeck, a 15-year-old abducted four years ago, were found at the apartment. Police arrested Michael Devlin, a 41-year-old pizza shop employee who also held a job answering telephones at night at a funeral home.

Devlin was charged with kidnapping both boys.

Thanks to a friendIn the TODAY interview, Ben thanked his friend Mitchell for helping authorities find him. "Thank you for being such a great big help in this entire thing," Ben said.

"If it wasn't for what Mitchell (saw) I don't know if we'd be sitting here talking to you right now,'' said Ben's father, William Ownby.

The Ownbys said authorities had asked the families of both boys not to speak about their time in captivity. That left open the mystery of how their captor kept them from escaping.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, citing unnamed sources, reported Tuesday that Devlin kept Shawn from fleeing by threatening to kill the boy and his entire family, perhaps explaining why Shawn didn't try to to get away.

Shawn apparently had the freedom to go outside, and perhaps even to use phones and the Internet.

While his alleged kidnapper was at work, Shawn or someone pretending to be him put photos of him online and posted a chilling message on a site created by his desperate parents: `"How long are you planning to look for your son?''

Other Web postings, some under the name "Shawn Devlin,'' have raised questions about whether the boy was trying to send clues about his real identity.

Investigators would not say if they believe the postings were, in fact, created by Shawn or by someone else. Shawn, now 15, was 11 when he was kidnapped on Oct. 6, 2002 while riding his bike near his rural home.

Joyful reunion
Don and Doris Ownby, meanwhile, say they're ecstatic at having their son home again. They were in the middle of another television interview on Friday when a sheriff's deputy arrived at their house.

"They said 'We have him,' " Doris Ownby recalled. "'And I said, 'We have who?' because I thought they were talking about the bad guy. I didn't think he was talking about Ben. And [the deputy] said 'We have Ben.' I think I screamed."

Ben was already en route to the local sheriff's office, so the couple and Ben's sister jumped into the deputy's car and headed there.

"The whole time we were going there I wanted to know it was really him. I couldn't quite let myself go yet," Don said. "When he walked in that room I finally knew he was OK. His mom got to him first, though."

Doris couldn't restrain herself.

"I got by everybody and I just grabbed him and just held onto him for a long time," she said. "I didn't say anything, I just held onto him I didn't want to let him go. Finally I realized I had to share him with his dad."

While Ben was being examined at an area hospital, the Ownbys ran into the family of Shawn Hornbeck.

"We both congratulated each other. We told them how happy we were to have Shawn home too," Doris Ownby said.

Doris said she is not anxious to let Ben out of her sight again. "I've been trying to think of a way I can go to school with him,'' she joked.

Ben just laughed.

"No," he said firmly.  

More of Meredith Vieira’s interview with Ben Owenby and his family airs on Dateline Tuesday, 8 p.m. on NBC.