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Parents: Abducted boy wants to help other kids

Shawn Hornbeck, the 15-year-old Missouri boy who was rescued by police more than four years after he was abducted, wants to help other families of missing children, his parents say in an an interview on TODAY.
/ Source: TODAY

The 15-year-old Missouri boy who was rescued by police more than four years after he was abducted wants to turn his ordeal into something positive and help other families of missing children, his parents say.

In an interview with TODAY’s Ann Curry, portions of which were broadcast on Friday, Craig and Pamela Akers said their son, Shawn Hornbeck, told them he wants to become actively involved in the foundation they started in his name after his Oct. 6, 2002 disappearance. The Shawn Hornbeck Foundation helps educate children, parents and communities in preventing child abduction.

"When he told us that, the first thing we asked him is, 'Are you sure?' and his answer was 'Nobody knows what it is like unless you have been there,'" said Pam Akers, Shawn’s mother.  "He has been there for four and a half years and he doesn't want anybody else to have to go through it again."

"He wants to be able to talk to other kids and help them try to stay safe," said Craig Akers, Shawn’s stepfather.  "He wants to turn this into a positive to help as many other people as he can. We really admire him for that. It is going to take a lot of strength and courage for him to do that and I just can't believe that he has the strength to even say that this early on."

Four years in limboShawn, who was 11 when he was abducted, andanother boy, 13-year-old Ben Ownby, were found last week in the suburban St. Louis apartment of 41-year-old Michael Devlin. Ownby had been abducted four days earlier near a school-bus stop.

Devlin, a pizza-store manager and part-time funeral home employee, was arrested and remains jailed on kidnapping and other charges.

The Akers wouldn't discuss details of their son's time in captivity, including whether he was physically threatened by his abductor. But they told talk-show host Oprah Winfrey in an interview that aired Thursday they think Shawn was sexually abused.

Shawn told Winfrey he was not ready to talk about specifics of the 51 months he apparently spent living with his accused kidnapper. But he said he continually prayed for a reunion with his family. "I prayed that one day my parents would find me and I'd be united," the boy said.

Winfrey said the boy told her off-camera that he was "terrified" to contact his parents during the last four years.

In the TODAY interview, his parents suggested that Shawn was too afraid to ever try to escape, even though he was apparently left alone for hours at a time during the four years he went missing.

"You gotta to remember that Shawn was 11 years old when he was taken. So he was much more vulnerable then than he is now and obviously something was done to keep him there," Craig Akers said. "You know you can be bound mentally as well as physically. You can be so terrified and so afraid that it can control your life, which obviously it did."

'Tickled pink'
Craig Akers said Shawn, though now darker-haired and several inches taller, hasn't outwardly changed all that dramatically. "He is just so much like the boy that that we remembered from so long ago."

Shawn was also amazed his parents hadn’t moved any of his belongings. "To put his clothes away he had to go to his dresser, and there were the clothes that he wore nearly four and a half years ago," Craig Akers said. "Believe it or not there was one T-shirt left in that drawer that did fit him ... and he was able to wear. He was just tickled pink that ... it was left."

Asked how long it might take before "things get back to normal," Pam Akers said only time will tell.

"Shawn will let us know when he feels it's normal again. I will say the other night that he told us it was the first time in a long time that he felt safe. And that was just wonderful for him to hear that and for us to hear that. And … for me just to hear that he felt safe again at home that was just great."

Shawn's grandmother, Anna Quinn, told the Associated Press on Thursday that the boy has not spoken Devlin's name, and that he has said little to relatives about what he went through

Meantime, his parents are keeping a close eye on Shawn.

"If he is not with us we make sure that he is with his sisters. When he has gone outside we have been standing at every window just making sure he still on our sight," Pam Akers said.