Shawn Hornbeck was kidnapped and kept hostage for four years by Michael Devlin, but on this day 13 years ago he had the family reunion they had all dreamed of through the unimaginably tough time
January 12, 2007, is a day Craig and Pam Akers will never forget, as they were finally reunited with their missing son, Shawn Hornbeck.
Four years previously, the 11-year-old vanished without a trace while out riding his bike on 6 October, 2002, after being kidnapped by evil pizza shop boss Michael Devlin.
After years of unimaginable pain and fear, Pam was finally able to cook her son his favourite meal of his favourite dinner – spaghetti and meatballs – and to make his bed read for him.
Shawn was found when he was 15, alongside 13-year-old Ben Ownby, who had been missing for four days.
Both were living with 20st pizza parlour manager Michael Devlin, 41, who snatched them from the streets.
His crimes were discovered after a white truck was seen speeding away after Ownby was snatched, and the boys were discovered in his US home.
Once they knew he was safe, police got to make the call they had dreamt of making for four years – to tell his mum and step dad that he was safe.
The couple had been driving home from work when the phone rang, and said they broke down in tears when they got the news.
peaking at the time, Craig said: “It is the phone call I will remember most for the rest of my life.
“This is the best day of our lives. It is hard to even come up with words to express the feeling. It has been like a dream, and we are afraid that we are going to wake up.”
On his first night home, Shawn’s parents sat and listened as their son talked for hours to sisters Jackie, 22, and Jenny, 20.
Speaking at the time, she said: “They are just happy being together. Shawn asked for spaghetti and meatballs, his favourite. That meant a lot.
Shawn spoke to Oprah Winfry about his experience in 2007, when the world was fascinated by the story and delighted at his safe return.
The teenager explains that he had used the internet to ask his parents a heartbreaking question.
Telling her about the moment he was reunited with his mum and step-dad, he said: “It was surprising. They’ve changed, but I could recognise them in 20 more years, instantly.”
He said he thought about his family every day, and said he prayed every night that he could be reunited with them.
He also explained that he had access to the internet and the phone, but couldn’t contact them.
But he did say he sent a message to the website that had been set up as part of the search to find him using his real name.
Oprah asks: “I had read that you had gone to the Internet site to asked ‘how long will you be looking for your son’. What did you feel doing that? Was that a way to connect with them?”
Shawn replies said: “I was hoping it might give some sort of hint.”
Craig remembers the message, and wishes he had thought more of it at the time.
He told the TV show: “I remember reading it, I remember thinking to myself either this is someone with that name or this is someone trying to yank my chain.”
“We knew the world knew the answer to that, we had been saying all along we would never stop looking for our son. It was strange
“You get so many of these messages. On a daily basis you get so many weird, out there message.”
Asked if he was struck with this one, he said it wasn’t but he wished he had been.
Shawn told Oprah the message was a cry for hope.
Asked about his hopes for the future, Shawn said he just wanted to go back to normal – to go to school, to work and to spend time with his parents and siblings.
“It’s very comforting knowing I’m back with my family, but I’ve missed out on a lot of stuff.”
Sadly, Craig passed away in 2019 from bladder cancer aged just 57.
After his death, Pam said she was “so grateful he got to spend more time with Shawn”.
Devlin pled guilty to all the counts against him and was sentenced to 72 years behind bars.