In plain sight, but missing
Neighbors wonder why a boy remained with his alleged abductor for years despite seemingly having freedom to flee.

By Nicholas Riccardi, Times Staff Writer
January 14, 2007

KIRKWOOD, MO. — Like father, like son, figured Michael Devlin's neighbors when they saw the bulky 41-year-old and the black-haired 15-year-old boy who lived with him.

Devlin, a manager at a pizza parlor who worked nights answering phones at a funeral home, kept to himself. The youth everyone assumed was Devlin's son was just as private, fleeing into the small apartment when neighbors even smiled at him. He rode his bike around this comfortable suburb even during school hours — he did not attend school — and occasionally took Devlin's white pickup for a spin.

No one suspected the sinister connection now alleged: that Devlin kidnapped Shawn Hornbeck more than four years ago. Devlin, who grew up in the area, was being held Saturday on one count of kidnapping. Bail was set at $1 million.

A day after police found Shawn and a 13-year-old boy missing since Monday in Devlin's apartment, residents struggled to understand how Shawn could have been a captive who lived in plain sight.

And, they recalled, he appeared to have as much freedom as a teenager could have.

He sported multiple piercings and carried a skateboard. Neighbors said he had a friend who regularly came over, tossed a football around with him and occasionally spent the night. A girl recently began to visit, and she and Shawn were seen holding hands.

Though the door to Apartment D was almost always closed, neighbors occasionally spotted Shawn sitting on the couch inside, playing Nintendo.

Still, there was much that they did not know.

Many neighbors were unaware of Shawn's name before Friday. Shawn's "father" seemed to speak to his neighbors only to scold them for parking in his designated spot, the closest one to the door of his ground-floor apartment. Devlin pulled up in his pickup with Shawn one night in August and started yelling at a neighbor who had taken his spot. Devlin called the police, who spoke with him before issuing a citation to other residents.

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