The kidnapping: I'm completely perplexed.
Here is the story as told by the Daily Mail. I'm completely perplexed:
Kidnap victim Shawn Hornbeck, who spent an astonishing four and a half years living with his abductor, had plenty of chances to escape, it emerged yesterday.
Friends of the 15-year-old said he was allowed to stay the night at their homes and acted like a 'normal teenager'.
The youngster was once even stopped by police on suspicion of playing truant - but made no attempt to raise the alarm.
One friend told how they watched a news report about Shawn Hornbeck's disappearance and remarked on the resemblance, but the teenager shrugged it off.
Shawn was discovered only after police in Kirkwood, Missouri, tracked another missing boy to the home of pizza parlour worker Michael Devlin.
The case of Shawn Hornbeck is, so far, utterly baffling.
Rescued by police from a four-year imprisonment in the house of a stranger, this normal, healthy, cheerful 15-year-old boy should be traumatised and stunted by his experience.
But he is not.
Snatched off the street when riding his bicycle at the age of 11, and almost given up for dead by his distraught parents, his ordeal-if that is what it was - has only come to light as a result of the disappearance a week ago of another youngster, Ben Ownby.
Ben's chum happened to spot the white van that abducted him, police traced the owner, and both boys were found living in a ground floor flat in Missouri belonging to 41-year-old bachelor Michael Devlin.
The obvious springs to mind. They must both have been the victims of a sexual predator, or perhaps a crazed collector, who kept them prisoners against their will.
Shawn's rescue was cause for ecstatic celebration by his family, and fascinated curiosity from the whole of America, but almost indifference from Shawn himself.
Why? Because it is evident that he has been leading something very close to a normal life and sees no reason for jubilation.
How normal is normal, one may ask. Well, for a start, he assumed the surname of his abductor and called himself Shawn Devlin.
He went skating. He went to the cinema. He rode his bike regularly. And none of this did he necessarily do alone. He had friends, notably two brothers near him in age, who came to visit and watched television with him.
They even stayed overnight, as teenage buddies do. Shawn returned the compliment, spending nights in the home of his friends, David and Tony Douglas.
Once, they saw a picture of the missing Shawn Hornbeck on the screen and remarked upon the likeness. The new Shawn Devlin shrugged and pouted, but said nothing. So nothing was done.
Mrs Douglas, the boys' mother, warmed to their friend and even took him to the zoo. It never occurred to her that he was a child in the midst of a drama, a child in need of help. And why should it have done, if there were no signs of distress?
Shawn referred to Devlin as his 'dad' and their landlord assumed they were father and son.
"The kid's bedroom didn't even have curtains on the window," he said.
Hardly the circumstances one would expect to curtail the movements of a captive.
The whole narrative is desperately mysterious, lacking any thread of reason. Did the boy change personality from one day to the next? Is that possible?
The only explanation so far offered is that this is an extreme instance of what is known as Stockholm Syndrome, whereby a captive becomes protective of his tormentor.
Because Stockholm Syndrome is inadequately understood, we should remind ourselves how it started.
In 1975, an attempted bank robbery in Stockholm stretched into a three-day siege, during the course of which an intense emotional bond evolved between the robbers and their hostages.
When the police eventually mounted a rescue mission, the hostages spotted what was about to happen and warned the robbers keeping them captive.
The police were dumbfounded by the realisation that the victims had allied themselves with the criminals.
It went further when one of the gang later became engaged to one of the bank clerks who had been his hostage.
Other similar cases merely deepen the mystery. An airline stewardess who was held at gunpoint by a hijacker subsequently spent months visiting him in prison, bearing gifts.
And the recent case of Natascha Kampusch in Austria made the problem even more vivid, with her poise and discretion upon release.
She had been a prisoner of Wolfgang Priklopil from the age of 10 to 18, her most delicate years, yet when his mother came to stay for the weekend, she kept quiet in her cell because she didn't want the woman to think ill of her son.
And when he committed suicide immediately following her escape, she blamed herself and took flowers to his coffin.
So what exactly had been going on? Was she his victim or his friend, or both? The truth is, the Stockholm situation is inherently ambiguous - it undermines moral certainties because it conflates moral opposites.
It is an expression of life in circumstances where one would expect an illustration of fury.
Psychologists have suggested that victims identify with their abductors out of fear of the violence that would ensue if they resisted. They also point to infantile regression, without explaining what this means, nor how it might be manifested.
They argue that the criminal can earn maximum reward for minimum cost by sparing the captive's life in return for cooperation, and that the captive is forever grateful thereafter.
By controlling the victim's environment, movements, access to air and light and meals, by isolating him or her from the normal world and turning a person into a possession, he imposes a severe sensory depravation which renders the victim malleable to an extreme degree.
Hence, their will is subverted and gradually conquered.
I think this analysis relies too much on preconceived notions of victimhood and control.
It does not allow room for common sense, because it assumes that Stockholm Syndrome is a oneway moral compass in which the warped views of the criminal determine the response of the captive.
In reality, the Stockholm experience must work in both directions, and the victim's compliance, his readiness to empathise, his willingness to make excuses and protect, all come from a profound human need to co-operate, to be of service and to help.
The human species has evolved precisely from those social bonds which hold us deeply beholden to one another in assistance and sympathy, and the Stockholm Syndrome is a graphic instance of these mutual needs in operation.
For his co-operation, for his refusal to be bitter, the victim earns the captor's gratitude, and feels he has done something good in his life. The captor's response to this generosity confirms his view.
Something like this must surely have happened to Natascha Kampusch, who protected her abductor from vilification and contempt, and it may have happened to Shawn Hornbeck, too.
He could well feel he has done Devlin some good in permitting him to play the role of father, and showing him respect rather than derision.
The original Stockholm victims, after all, changed character in only three days - so Shawn Hornbeck could well have done over four years.
As for the moral ambiguities, let me point to the case of a young man who was nearly murdered in 1985 by Denis Nilsen, the Muswell Hill killer, then subsequently saved by him.
Nilsen strangled this boy, then drowned him in the bath tub, then dumped the body on his bed. His pet dog recognised life was still present and licked the man's legs.
Nilsen, by now re- emergent from his murderous phase, rubbed the legs to get blood flowing, turned on the electric fire, and pulled out a blanket.
Years later, this man told me his moral certainties were skewed ever after, as he could not make up his mind whether Nilsen was his murderer or his saviour. He was both.
Shawn Hornbeck, when he finally tells his tale, may have something similar to say.
He might also reveal why he did not once, with all his liberty during the years he was held captive, find a way to reassure his poor mother that he was safe and well.