10 months after abduction, boy reported bike stolen

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ST. LOUIS – Ten months after Shawn Hornbeck disappeared from his home in Washington County, he sought the help of a Kirkwood, Mo., police officer.

His bike had been stolen.

The date was August 15, 2003. He had just turned 12 a month earlier. His disappearance remained very much in the public eye.

But that day in a Kirkwood apartment complex, Shawn introduced himself to the officer as Shawn Devlin. He apparently gave no clue that he was a missing child being held captive.

Instead, he reported that his BMX bike had been stolen from outside the apartment he shared with Michael J. Devlin, according to a Kirkwood police report.

The incident reveals that Shawn gained some freedoms, and also actively hid his real identity, even in the first year of his captivity. As Shawn got older, he was known to use a cell phone, surf the Internet and have a girlfriend.

Shawn was missing more than four years before he was discovered on Jan. 12 with another boy, Ben Ownby, 13, who had gone missing five days earlier. Michael Devlin, 41, has been charged with kidnapping both boys.

The Kirkwood officer who talked to Shawn in August 2003, Christopher Moss, was summoned to the neighborhood for a stolen-bike complaint. He was getting ready to leave when he was told of another stolen bike, according to Moss’ report, obtained by the Post-Dispatch through a public-records request.

“I spoke with Shawn Devlin and his father Michael Devlin,” Moss wrote. “Shawn said his bicycle had been left outside on the porch area around 10 p.m. on August 14, 2003, and was missing when he went outside on August 15, 2003, around 8:30 a.m.”

“The Devlins had no suspect information,” Moss added.

The bike was not the same as the lime-green mountain bike that Shawn was riding the day of his disappearance.

Shawn gave his birth date to Moss as July 1, 1991, which was 16 days earlier than his real birthday.

Moss, now an officer with Overland, Mo., police, could not be reached for comment. Kirkwood police declined to comment, saying investigators in the kidnapping case have told them not to speak to the media.

Kim Evans, a friend of Shawn’s family who has been speaking on their behalf, said she was “speechless” that Shawn was seen by police 10 months after his kidnapping.

“You would think someone would have recognized him,” she said. “But it’s hard to say.”

It would not be Shawn’s last encounter with a police officer.

As previously reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, on Sept. 29, 2006, Shawn was riding a bike late at night when an officer stopped him.

The Glendale officer, parked near a house that had collapsed, was keeping people away from the rubble when he spotted Shawn about 11:20 p.m..

According to the police report, Shawn told the officer his name was Shawn Devlin and gave him the birth date July 7, 1991 – 10 days off his true date of birth.

Shawn told the officer he was riding his bike to his apartment in Kirkwood after visiting a friend’s home.

Glendale police have said the officer stopped Shawn because he was wearing dark clothes and didn’t have reflectors on the bike. The officer had no reason to suspect Shawn Devlin was someone else, police said.

In other developments Friday, Kirkwood police said they interviewed a woman who claimed she reported to them several years ago her suspicions that Shawn Devlin was really Shawn Hornbeck.

She claimed Kirkwood officers responded to her apartment near Devlin’s, checked into the matter and concluded the boy wasn’t Shawn Hornbeck.

“We’ve investigated her allegations and found no record of it anywhere,” said Tom Ballman, a Kirkwood police spokesman. “This story is a complete fabrication.”

Also on Friday, authorities announced a task force to examine whether Devlin may have abducted children who are still missing. The task force includes the FBI, state police, three sheriff’s departments and police in St. Charles and Kirkwood.

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