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Missouri Kidnap Case

by Geraldo Rivera | Jan 17, 2007

The Kirkwood, Missouri miracle that saw two young kidnap victims returned to their families this weekend is the best ending to a crime story since Elizabeth Smart was rescued from the weirdoes who kidnapped her several years ago in Salt Lake City. And as with then 14-year old Elizabeth, one question many have is why these children don’t attempt to escape even when they have the chance?

"It happens to prisoners of war, they do what they have to do in order to survive, It happens to women that are rape victims, if someone got in your apartment and kept you there for nine hours you would probably do what that kidnapper said to do, he broke this boy down psychologically, this boy was terrified…”

Perhaps the answer is as simple as crime fighter John Walsh suggests, that sheer terror keeps the children psychologically captive even when opportunities to escape present themselves. But in the case of 15-year old Shawn Hornbeck, the truth could be more complicated.

Snatched at just 11, by Michael Devlin, the massive pizza shop employee now charged with kidnapping, Shawn seems to have adopted the survival strategy common especially among children, of clinging to his captor.

Often left alone when Devlin worked two jobs, Shawn had a cell phone at his disposal and access to the Internet, he may have even posted his own profile online under the name Shawn Devlin. He had a bicycle, freedom of movement and even close friends in the neighborhood that apparently had no idea he was the victim of a kidnapping. He was even alone with cops in a patrol car after being busted for a curfew violation, and still he said nothing about who he really was.

His situation brings to mind the infamous “My Name Is Steven” case in which Steven Stayner a California youth snatched and held by a perverse and repeatedly abusive kidnapper only escaped after eight horrifying years, and then only because he was approaching puberty and Ken Parnell, his vile kidnapper had snatched another younger victim. Psychologist Keith Ablow.

"When you’re a child and an adult hold all the cards to life and death, you obey.. you don't know if they are going to kill you.. if they are going to kill your family."

But is it fear or a kind of mind control? Remember Patty Hearst? The California heiress snatched in 1974 at 19-years old by radical kidnappers who raped and tormented her. They managed to alter her consciousness to the extent that she later would so totally identify with her captors that she robbed a San Francisco bank for them.

When at her trial, her attorney argued that she had been brainwashed the court disagreed. Patty was convicted and served two years in prison before her sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter

At the time, the so-called Stockholm Syndrome was little understood by psychologists. Named for a 1973 Swedish bank robbery in which the hostages came to identify and sympathize more with their captors’ plight than their own.

Isn’t that what happened to Elizabeth Smart?

"The number one questions should not be why didn't he get away, the number one question should be let's leave this family alone and do what Elizabeth Smart's family did so smartly and help this little boy heal, he hasn't been in school for 4 years, he's gonna have a tough road ahead of him," says John Walsh.

But with due respect to my friend, I think these cases make clear something more. The need to amplify the difficult instructions we give our children. On the slight, but terrible chance this nightmare happens, and some monster tries to grab them, not only should they fight like hell and make as much noise as possible during the act, they should keep aware of chances to escape, especially if they’re being held in plain sight.

And animals like Michael Devlin, who kill years from a child’s life, should forfeit the rest of their own.

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