Shawn Hornbeck, the 15-year-old Missouri boy who was reunited with his parents last week after being missing for four years, told Oprah Winfrey on Thursday that he never stopped hoping to come home.
“There was a time when I was thinking about giving up, but then I just thought of what (my parents were) doing and searching for me and looking for me,” Hornbeck told Winfrey in his first interview since his dramatic rescue by federal agents. “I knew they (weren’t) giving up, so I figured I shouldn’t.”
Hornbeck’s parents, Craig and Pam Akers, who held Shawn’s hands during much of the interview, echoed his sentiments. “We’ve always believed that there was absolutely hope that he was out there and that we would find him,” Craig said. “That’s what got us up every day.”
Pam added: “I couldn’t give up hope on him, and I knew the Lord knew where he was at, and if He wanted him brought back to me, that’s the way it was going to happen.”
Searching for Ben Ownby, a 13-year-old boy missing since Jan. 8, police raided the Kirkwood, Mo., apartment of Michael Devlin, 41, on Jan. 12 and found both Ownby and Hornbeck, who had been missing since October 2002.
Devlin has since pleaded not guilty to kidnapping charges.
Hornbeck has not spoken in detail about his ordeal with his parents, nor did he with Winfrey, leaving one question unanswered: why he didn’t try to escape, since he had some freedom.
Pam Akers told Winfrey she believed her son was threatened into submission. “I honestly believe if the alleged person would have said, ‘You can leave at any time. There will be no recourse,’ everything would be fine and Shawn would have come home in a heartbeat,” she said.
Hornbeck would say only that he was “terrified” during his time with Devlin.
Getting back to his normal life will probably be a challenge. The Akers told Winfrey they believe their son was sexually abused during the past four years, and said he will need professional care in the coming months. “It’s definitely not the little boy that I had at 11,” Pam said. “There’s going to be a lot of adjustments.”
But Hornbeck said it was “great to be back home, seeing familiar faces.” Asked if he will be able to resume a regular life, he replied, “At some point, yes. We’re hoping soon, though.”
Click here for an excerpt from this week’s PEOPLE cover story on the dramatic rescue of Shawn Hornback and Ben Ownby. For the complete story, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.