ST. LOUIS — The young man rescued in 2007 after being held captive for four years in Missouri is offering advice to three kidnapped women found this week inside a Cleveland home: Rely on your family for support.
Shawn Hornbeck's rescue was dubbed the "Missouri Miracle." He was 11 years old when he disappeared while riding his bike near his home in rural Richwoods, in 2002.
When another boy, 13-year-old Ben Ownby, disappeared in January 2007 from near his home in another rural area of Missouri, a frantic search led to the suburban St. Louis apartment of pizzeria manager Michael Devlin. Five days later, rescuers found Ben and Shawn there.
Devlin is serving 74 life sentences at a prison in Missouri. Hornbeck, now 21, has a full-time job. Messages seeking comment from Ownby's family were not returned.
"My advice to them is your family is always going to be there for you," he said. "Mine have been through thick and thin, and if it wasn't for them, none of this could've been possible. So your family is your strongest thing."
Hornbeck also offered words of reassurance that better days are ahead.
"From my experience, what I would tell them is the worst part of your life is over. You got the rest of your life to look forward to," Hornbeck said.
Hornbeck's parents, Pam and Craig Akers, told KSDK they never gave up hope while Shawn was missing, and the Cleveland case was evidence that parents of missing children keep up the hope.
"Stories like this — you just never know," Pam Akers said. "Just because your child's been missing one year, four years, 10 years, doesn't mean you're not going to get them back."
Hornbeck said the ordeal he lived through doesn't define him. He wears tattoos with the words "faith" and "respect," saying he believes God's purpose for him may be to help others. Soon after he was freed, Hornbeck and his family started a foundation to support families of missing and lost children.
"I've accepted that it's been part of my life," he said.