PETER ROST: PHARMA MARKETING EXPERT WITNESS. AWP, MEDICAL DEVICE EXPERT.: The kidnapping: I'm completely perplexed.
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PETER ROST: PHARMA MARKETING EXPERT WITNESS. AWP, MEDICAL DEVICE EXPERT.

Peter Rost, M.D., is a former Pfizer Marketing Vice President providing services as a medical device and drug expert witness and pharmaceutical marketing expert. Judge Sanders: "The court agrees with defendants' view that Dr. Rost is a very adept and seasoned expert witness." He is also the author of Emergency Surgery, The Whistleblower and Killer Drug. You can reach him on rostpeter (insert symbol) hotmail.com. Please read the terms of use agreement and privacy policy for this blog carefully.

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.

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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.

13 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know why you think it so perplexing. So far, I have heard nothing about what this kid's life was like before this happened and I would almost bet you that the story there will explain quite a lot. Nothing happens in a vacuum. If you apply Occam's Razor (seek the simplest explanation) it would appear the kid did not want to go back for reasons of his own (which may or may not be valid - but that is a different discussion).

1/16/2007  
Anonymous Rosethejet said...

Very well put. I and my friends, family and the store clerk have all asked the same questions.

He didn't leave when he could...WHY?

Stockholm almost seems beyond all normal reason in this case and it is indeed the strangest case I've personally ever heard of. What is stranger still to me is how the MSM has almost universally ignored this particular part of the mystery.

Most peculiar and one that should be interesting in hearing when it all comes out....if it ever does.

Elizabeth Smart is a similar case.

BUT even further it makes you wonder just how many kids out there may be living in similar situations. Dozens? Hundreds and perhaps even thousands have lived like this over the last hundred years or so of abductions?

This is indeed fascinating.

1/17/2007  
Blogger Benedict 16th said...

It sounds to me something like the antithesis of why people (and corporations) hate whistleblowers who were only "trying to help"?

Benedict

1/17/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am REALLY getting sick of reading comments from people who place blame on Shawn for not escaping. I think people are forgetting that he was 11 YEARS OLD when he was first kidnapped. Sure, if a 15-year old was taken today and didn't try to leave, maybe I'd wonder a bit. But he was only 11 when this whole thing started. No one has any idea what he went through and to argue he was wrong not to run away is completely insensitive and shows ignorance. I agree that everyone has a right to an opinion and typically I will agree to disagree. But this poor kid has so much to deal with and it just infuriates me that on top of it all he now will be forced to question himself about why he didn't leave. As if he didn't have enough to work though, he will have added guilt for not acting. If he were my son, I would not have wanted him to do anything different. He kept himself alive for 4-1/2 years. Honestly, I hope he was easily manipulated merely with verbal threats and nothing more. This is an amazing story that should be celebrated, and then left alone so this boy and his famly can begin the healing process.

1/17/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to believe that you are being purposefully provacative in order to generate blog activity since you are postulating, nay, pontificating, over something about which you know very little if anything. I am beyond tired of this persistent blame the victim mentality that continues to be espoused and advanced by so-called intelligent people. Aren't you guilty of the very thing you have been vociferously accusing Pfizer of as they blame you for your termination? What a hypocrite!

1/17/2007  
Anonymous Rosethejet said...

What a bunch of assholes in the last two responses Doc.

First of all the Doc is NOT blaming the victim for anything at all. But it is just an amazing amount of strange goings on for a kid who had the ability to leave at any time and the questions are numerous at this time.

As a father I would not have been happy about my son living a few miles away and even after being allowed to leave at any time to spend the night at friends houses, go to movies and have basically free reign to do what I wanted, I would be very perplexed and want answers.

"He did what he had to, to stay alive?"

You mean he had a bomb around his neck and couldn't go home or let anyone know he had been removed from his home or the bomb would have gone off?

He spent nights away from home. He didn't need to "do what he needed to, to stay alive". There is something else going on here. He could have easily left at any time in the last few years but for some reason, and this is the myster, he didn't. Why not?

THAT is/are the questions going on here. What a bunch of jerkoffs you two (or one) are.

Here's a quarter, go buy yourselves a clue since you obviously lack even one.

Morons.

1/17/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He does NOT blame. He just questions.
He only turns the situation inside out
to try and understand it and view it at all angles. There is No Blame
just an investigators examination of the facts and curiosity of the condition. It is perplexing and it
puts fear into the hearts of Parents
who wonder ...Could this happen to my
child? Could someone bend their mind
into compliance?

1/17/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me that if Pfizer could
do this to their employees
be both their tormentor and their saviour, convince grown people that if they leave there is no where else to go, someone could surely convince a child.

1/17/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suspect in kidnappings of two Missouri boys is now "most viable lead" in 16-year-old case of another missing Missouri boy, The Associated Press reports.

1/17/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to rosethejet,

here's 25 bucks - go buy yourself a style guide so that you can learn how to write, ok?

1/17/2007  
Blogger Peter Rost said...

Mmmm. Anons. I just said I'm perplexed. The rest is the journalist writing. And I do think many others are raising the same questions. Not asking them would be irresponsible.

1/17/2007  
Anonymous Rosethejet said...

to rosethejet,

here's 25 bucks - go buy yourself a style guide so that you can learn how to write, ok?

1/17/2007


How about a name?...COWARD! AND A MORON TO BOOT!

Keep the money, you obviosly need it more. Buy a lot of clues. MAYBE you can get enough to come up with a single coherent thought.

1/18/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the parents looks very religions. The child has already had a hair cut, and his jewelry removed. This child was afraid to go home. what methods of punishment were used in that household when Shawn was young?

The parents should be watched so they don't make this child's life miserable. And they should stop their media circus. Shawn must think they are really enjoying all this importance they seem to enjoy.

1/19/2007  

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