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Web postings deepen mystery in kidnapping case

Boy reportedly had computer access in captivity

KIRKWOOD, Mo. -- While his alleged kidnapper was away at work, teenager Shawn Hornbeck apparently had access to a computer, and may have put photos of himself online and posted a chilling message on a site created by his own desperate parents: "How long are you planning to look for your son?"

A series of Web postings under the name "Shawn Devlin" -- Devlin is the last name of the man suspected of kidnapping Shawn and posing as his father -- came to light after Shawn's rescue from an apartment in Kirkwood last week.

Investigators would not comment on the postings, and it was not immediately known whether they were, in fact, created by Shawn. But if so, they add to the long list of clues that no one seemed to pick up on during the 4 1/2 years after the boy vanished.

They also deepen the mystery of why Shawn apparently made no attempt to escape or notify authorities.

Shawn, now 15, was 11 when he was kidnapped in 2002 while riding his bike near his rural home. Astonished police found him Friday in a suburban St. Louis apartment where they also discovered 13-year-old Ben Ownby, who had been missing for four days.

Their alleged abductor, Michael Devlin, 41, a pizza shop employee who also held a job answering telephones at night at a funeral home, was jailed on $1 million bail. So far, he is charged only in the kidnapping of Ben, but authorities also plan to charge him with abducting Shawn.

Investigators have given no motive for the crime and no details on what the boys went through. Officials said Devlin did not appear to have a criminal record.

Devlin's attorney, Michael Kielty, said he has not seen any evidence and will enter a not guilty plea at his arraignment later this week.

During his captivity, Shawn may have offered clues on the Web that were overlooked.

At 1:59 a.m. on Dec. 1, 2005, someone using the name "Shawn Devlin" asked in a forum on the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation website : "How long are you planing [sic] to look for your son?" Shawn's parents, Craig and Pam Akers, started the foundation to help find their son and other missing youngsters.

Later that same day, at 2:56 p.m., Shawn Devlin wrote to ask whether he could compose a poem for the family.

The poem never appeared in future postings.

Several Web profiles also appeared to be of Shawn. One, on mindviz.com, described a Shawn from St. Louis as a white atheist with a pet cat.

A Web page created on Yahoo in 2004 carried a photo of a youngster who resembled Shawn, though with shorter hair. The youngster had an eyebrow piercing. The day after Shawn was found, he appeared in public with a lip ring and three ear piercings.

A separate Yahoo profile was taken out under the name Shawn Devlin in November 2005. It, too, contains a picture resembling Shawn; the page said the user lived in Kirkwood.

Shawn's stepfather, Craig Akers, has said that during Shawn's captivity, he did not attend school. Some neighbors also noticed that they never saw Shawn with books or a backpack.

Krista Jones, who lives in the same apartment complex, noticed Shawn wearing black clothes and piercings in his ear and lip. "I figured maybe he's just a dropout," or thought he attended an alternative school, she said.

She said that a few months ago, she saw Devlin showing Shawn how to drive Devlin's pickup. A short time later, she saw Shawn driving the truck with another boy, Tony Douglas, beside him. Missouri law allows 15-year-olds to drive, but only if an adult is with them.

Tony's brother, Larry, said Tony often went skateboarding and biking with Shawn and had no idea of Shawn's real identity.

Larry Douglas said his brother was not being allowed to speak to the media.

Larry Douglas said his brother used to live in the same apartment complex as Devlin and Shawn before recently moving.

"They were best friends," Douglas said. "They went everywhere together."

Tony sometimes spent the night at Shawn's apartment, but rarely spoke with Devlin.

Larry Douglas said his brother saw no indication of abuse, or clues that Shawn was a captive.

"He just hopes to see his friend again," Douglas said. "He's happy for Shawn."

Kevin Schroeder, sheriff in Washington County, said Devlin owned a piece of vacant property in Washington County, about 20 minutes from where Shawn was seized in the rural community of Richwoods.

"It's a connection -- I would definitely say so," Schroeder said.

Ben Ownby was also abducted from a small town, Beaufort, in neighboring Franklin County. Both Beaufort and Richwoods are about an hour from Kirkwood.

Ben's abduction on Jan. 8 immediately caught the sheriff's attention because of similarities to Shawn's case.

"The main thing was the physical description of Ben," Schroeder said. "Their height, their weight, the age. They were both taken from rural communities. So many aspects of it were surprisingly similar."

Two Kirkwood police officers were at the apartment complex Thursday on unrelated business when they spotted a white, rusted Nissan pickup that matched the description of the truck seen speeding away after Ben's abduction.

That Shawn had so many ways, and opportunities, to contact police or others has confounded relatives and friends.

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