ST. LOUIS >> A former FBI agent who played a key role in cracking the disappearance of two Missouri boys, one of whom had been missing for nearly five years, is rejoicing in the 10-year anniversary of the rescues, known as the “Missouri Miracle.”
Lynn Willett tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that saving Ben Ownby and Shawn Hornbeck from Michael Devlin’s suburban St. Louis apartment in 2007 was “a significant day for all of us.”
Ownby was 13 when Devlin abducted him from a school bus stop in rural Franklin County. Four days later, he was found in Devlin’s apartment along with Hornbeck, who was 15 and had been missing since 2002. Devlin later was convicted and is serving multiple life sentences.
Ownby and Hornbeck have remained out of the limelight in recent years. Willett, 57 and retired from the FBI since 2010, attended Ownby’s Eagle Scout ceremony years ago, and replied to a 2014 tweet from Shawn but never got a reply.
Willett hasn’t forgotten Jan. 12, 2007, when she and FBI Special Agent Tina Kinney were checking tips about white pickup trucks resembling one seen near Ownby’s abduction. One led took them to a pizza restaurant in a St. Louis suburb, where the eatery’s manager, Devlin, owned such a vehicle.
Devlin wouldn’t make eye contact with the investigators, and Willett said: “my Spidey-senses were up, almost immediately.” But he gave them permission to search his truck.
“I had a sense very early on, based on the way he was answering questions, that it wasn’t quite adding up,” Willett remembers of Devlin, who kept mentioning a godson named “Shawn.” When Willett told him that tire tracks at the kidnap scene could be the key in solving the case, Devlin lowered his head, told her he was a “bad person” and confessed that the godson “Shawn” was the missing Hornbeck. And that he also had Ownby.
“He said, ‘I have Shawn.’ I said, ‘Take us to him,’” she said.
Accompanied by investigators, Devlin unlocked his apartment door and announced, “The police are here,” Willett said. The boys were playing video games. When Ownby ran to her, she told him, “You’re with the FBI, and you’re safe.’”
She says she’s reluctant to talk about the day the boys’ disappearances ended.
“I want the story to be theirs to tell,” she said. “I’m an important cog in it, but it’s a personal thing for each boy and their family. It’s their story to tell.”