White van provides clue to double kidnap

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An American couple's four-and-a-half-year anguish over their missing 14-year-old son came to an end last week when he was found alive and well 40 miles away in a St Louis apartment. But this was no ordinary happy ending: Shawn Hornbeck, who was 11 when he vanished from his neighbourhood in Missouri in 2002, was only discovered thanks to the sudden and suspicious disappearance on Monday of another boy, Ben Ownby, 13.

A van that sped away from a bus-stop, spotted by a friend of Ben's shortly after he went missing, provided the vital clue. The vehicle was later seen outside the house of Michael Devlin, 41, of Kirkwood, Missouri. Police entered the apartment and found the two boys. Mr Devlin has been charged with kidnapping.

The authorities were said to be still investigating the motive behind the separate abductions.

Pam Akers, Shawn's mother, said yesterday: "I feel like I'm in a dream, only this time it's a good dream, not a nightmare." Craig Akers, his father, said the case should provide hope for all families with missing children. "We were never going to stop searching until we found him."