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Web offers clues to Shawn

Profiles of a teen who appears to be the missing Missouri boy appear on three sites.

January 15, 2007|Nicholas Riccardi | Times Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS — At least three websites that purport to be Internet profiles of a "Shawn Devlin" include photos of a teenager who appears to be Shawn Hornbeck, who was allegedly kidnapped by 41-year-old Michael Devlin four years ago and freed Friday night when police found him with another missing boy inside Devlin's apartment.

It is unclear who created the 2-year-old Web pages, linked to by the website The True Crime Blog. But they feed into growing questions about how the boy who was kidnapped in 2002 continued to live openly with the man neighbors believed was his father in a rundown apartment complex in a St. Louis suburb. Witnesses say Shawn, now 15, was frequently left alone, had friends and rode his bike on the streets of Kirkwood.

Shawn's stepfather told ABC News on Saturday that Devlin, who weighs 300 pounds and reportedly has a ferocious temper, made Shawn fear for his life. And mental health experts said there were many reasons a child in his position might appear at liberty but not truly be free.

"In these cases, abductors usually set down some ground rules for survival," said Terri Weaver, an associate professor of psychology at St. Louis University who studies trauma, who noted that Shawn was only 11 when taken. "Fear is such a powerful emotion, especially when fear is backed up by actions.... As time goes on it becomes harder and harder to speak out."

Devlin remained in jail Sunday on $1-million bail. He faces a single charge of kidnapping, but authorities say more charges are possible.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Sunday quoted friends who said Devlin, who was adopted into a large local family as a child and managed a pizzeria as an adult, became withdrawn after developing diabetes and having a toe amputated in 2002.

Devlin's attorneys did not return calls for comment. The Franklin County Sheriff's Department said there would be no comments until Tuesday. The Hornbeck family could not be reached; when asked at a Saturday news conference about the online appearance of "Shawn Devlin," they said they knew nothing about it.

One of the Web pages, on a Yahoo group, has a photo that looks like the eyebrow-pierced teenager Shawn grew up to be. It lists his hometown as St. Louis, his nicknames as "devil, vampire" and his hobbies as "listen to music, hanging with friends, talking to ppl on the computer." A second "Shawn Devlin" page, also on a Yahoo group, has a photo that looks like Shawn, says his nickname is "kyo" and lists his hometown as "St. Louis MO Kirkwood."

A profile on the networking site mindviz.com says it is for friends and describes him as a white atheist living in Kirkwood attending high school -- though Shawn apparently did not attend school during his captivity.

Another notable online appearance of "Shawn Devlin" came Dec. 1, 2005, in the comments on a Web page for the missing Shawn Hornbeck. The poster, listing his residence as Kirkwood, first asked, "How long are you planning to look for your son?" An hour later, a new post appeared, apologizing for the prior post.

"i write poems and i was wounding if it would be ok to write a poem for the Hornbeck fam. And they son 'shawn Hornbeck' it would be cool if i could but if you dont want me to I can understan why i guess but i was wounding i guess if i could write a poem in his honer (sorry I don't know how to spell that last word.)"

nicholas.riccardi@latimes.com

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Times researcher Vicki Gallay in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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