Kidnapped: Shawn Hornbeck

Exclusive: Kidnapped at 11, Hornbeck shares his incredible story of survival

This episode was originally broadcast on Sept. 24, 2008. It was updated on Sept. 5, 2009.

On Oct. 6, 2002, 11-year-old Shawn Hornbeck wanted to ride his bike to a friend's house - something his parents say he had done many times before. But this bike ride would end very differently than all others: when Shawn turned down a gravel road, he had no idea he was heading straight into the grip of a dangerous kidnapper.

Kidnapped and held for four and a half years, Shawn tells his amazing story of survival to correspondent Troy Roberts.

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Hours after Shawn disappeared, sheriff's deputies, police and volunteers were combing the rough terrain around his hometown of Richwoods, Mo.

But aside from dogs detecting Shawn's scent, nothing else turned up - not even his bike.

As days turned to weeks, Shawn's mother Pam and stepfather Craig Akers put on a brave face for reporters, but privately they were falling apart.

"Nighttime was about the only time where we really did have the opportunity to talk honestly about things and share our emotions and that was probably the roughest times - you're sitting there alone and, just trying to figure out what happened to your son," Craig remembers.

Pam and Craig couldn't help but feel guilty for letting Shawn go out alone that day. And Pam says at times she does blame herself. "I do feel that I failed on the part of protecting him. And keeping him safe and keeping him at home."

"I feel the same way," Craig adds. "I'd just go over in my mind all the different things we could have done that day."

But Shawn had taken that ride dozens of times before.

Shawn and his two older sisters, Jackie and Jennifer, had grown up in the quiet Midwestern town, just 60 miles from St. Louis.

When he was 6, Shawn had walked his mother down the aisle when she married Craig.

And even though Shawn wasn't Craig's biological son, they shared a special bond. "He was always known as my shadow. He grew up sitting on my lap in front of the keyboard. We spent pretty much every minute of every day together," Craig remembers.

When the official search for their son was scaled back, the Akers kept looking. "We cashed in my 401(k). Every penny that we had ever saved went into the search for Shawn," Craig says.

They formed the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation, and set up an e-mail tip line.

Working for the county prosecutor, retired St. Louis Detective Don Cooksey investigated over 400 leads. "I searched strip mines; I searched caves, river ways, abandoned farms, abandoned trailers, cemeteries. Lakes, I've drained lakes," he remembers. "About a year into the investigation, maybe a year and a half, I didn't think we'd ever find him alive."

One year gave way to two, then three, and four.

What the Akers didn't know was that less than an hour from home, Shawn was being held captive by a man police would later call a monster.

Shawn was living his days in terror. "I'm not gonna lie, there was times when it seemed like I was better off dead than living through that," he tells Roberts.

Shawn was subjected to unimaginable daily physical and sexual abuse. "From day one, he had the gun, he had the power. I was powerless. There's nothing I could physically do," he explains.

Asked if the days seemed to blend in with each other, Shawn says, "Yeah, there was times that I thought it was July and it was snowing outside. I just, I didn't keep track of time or day. It was just another day. It was just another day to add to my life."

Then, on a cold winter's morning in January 2007, Pam and Craig woke up to a TV news report about an abduction in a nearby town. "It really kind of struck me as eerily similar," Craig says.

"The hair color, the size, the age," Pam adds.

Was it just an eerie coincidence or something more?