A Game of 'What If'

It was 2 a.m. and I'd been at SHOT Show all day, but I couldn't turn away from the story unfolding on the TV. Missouri police had safely recovered two kidnapped boys, one of whom had been missing for four years, and investigators were crediting information sharing between departments as the main reason the kids were found.

The story unfolds as follows: Kirkwood police officers arrived at an apartment complex to serve a warrant to another tenant, when they noticed a white pickup truck matching the description of a vehicle sighted in the area where Ben Owenby had last been seen. The officers had gleaned this information from a dispatch released by the Franklin County Sheriff's Department when the boy had disappeared four days earlier. These officers then spoke with alleged kidnapper Michael Devlin, whom they described as nervous during the conversation. The following day officers returned to Devlin's apartment, and were greeted with Owenby's voice asking if they'd come to take him home. But the biggest surprise turned out to be the presence of the second boy, Shawn Hornbeck, who'd been missing since 2002.

The whole story, while sending chills down my spine, also created a lot of what if's:

  • What if Franklin County authorities dismissed the information about the truck provided to them by a 15-year-old at the scene?
  • What if police hadn't shared this information with other local departments?
  • What if officers didn't notice or check out the vehicle when serving the warrant?
  • What if, after speaking with Devlin, they didn't do any further follow up?

The answer is what has been dubbed by the media as the "Missouri Miracle" might have been called the "Missouri Nightmare" instead, with Owenby suffering the same fate as Hornbeck — becoming one of America's permanently missing.

The media calls this case "an accomplishment for investigators." But it's a policing triumph for all officers and departments involved. For without information sharing, these boys may never have been found.

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