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.
“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.