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Interview With Shawn Hornbeck's Parents

Aired January 19, 2007 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, their kidnapped son is finally safe at home and after four agonizing in which he was too terrified to even try to phone home. What has he told his parents about his ordeal? How do they begin to get his life back and what would they like to tell the man charged with kidnapping their son.
Shawn Hornbeck's parents open up.

But first, she found her own daughter dead from drinking too much water in that radio station contest gone horribly wrong. Before attending her daughter's memorial tonight, she's here for her first interview to tell us what she plans to do about the tragedy.

And in response to your requests, an encore appearance by "American Idol" winners Taylor Hicks and Fantasia Barrino. It's all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening, we begin tonight going to Sacramento, California.

Nina Hulst is standing by. It was her daughter Jennifer Strange who died after drinking nearly two gallons of water in as part of an on-air contest at Sacramento radio station KDND-FM. With her is Roger Dreyer, the attorney representing the family of Jennifer Strange. By the way, directly from here, Nina will be attending a memorial service for her late daughter. Nina, you, of course, have our condolences.

How -- You have three grandchildren, right?

NINA HULST, DAUGHTER DIED IN RADIO CONTEST: I do, beautiful grandchildren.

KING: Did you know she was entering this contest?

HULST: She had told me about it, not anything specific except for it was a contest to win a Wii Nintendo system for her kids, and she did not really have any of the specifics that she told me about at the time when they had chose her for the contest.

KING: Did you listen to her on the radio?

HULST: No. Where I work, we don't have our access to a radio during our work hours. So, no, I did not listen to her on the radio.

KING: Did you know that day, though, she would be drinking water in order to win it? HULST: Yes, and what -- I don't even recall if she at the point when she had told me about the contest actually knew how much water they would drink or the amount of time they were going to drink the water in. All she told me was they were going to drink some water, and see who could go the longest without using the rest room. So I had assumed they were just going to drink 32 ounces of water, and them wait them out as much throughout the day and see who had to go to the bathroom first.

KING: Now, Nina, she called in sick to work after the contest. She wasn't feeling well. She went home. We understand you tried to reach her after the contest. When you couldn't, you went out over and found your daughter, is that right?

HULST: That's correct. Several of her close friends and co- workers knew she had been in the contest and told -- had called me at work that afternoon and said they spoke to Jen earlier in the day and that she was going to go home and they had been trying to reach her later and she was not calling them back.

So I tried calling her several times. She did not call me back, which is not like her because we talk constantly throughout the day.

And so I became a little concerned and said, told my work that I would be leaving, that I was going to go home and check on her and I have a house key to her house, as well as she had one to mine. We were in and out of each other's houses constantly.

And I went there, I saw her car in the driveway. I rang the doorbell. She didn't answer. I opened the door. I walked in the doorway. I called out her name two times and there was no response. I turned to the right down the hallway towards where the bathroom and bedrooms were, and I saw her laying on the bathroom floor, not moving. And I ran in.

I called her name, I shook her several times and she didn't respond. I pulled her hair back away from her face, and she was purple and blue and she was cold and she was calm.

KING: Did you call 911?

HULST: I ran from there directly to the kitchen and grabbed the phone. I called 911. The 911 operator asked me if I knew how to do CPR, and I said there's no reason to do CPR. She is gone. Please send somebody immediately. And I sunk to the floor.

KING: Who let her husband know?

HULST: I had called him just before I had left work to tell -- I left him a message. I couldn't reach him. I said I have been trying to call Jen a couple of times and she hasn't called me back. And had he had heard from her, and if he had, please call me. I was on my way to their house.

And as the police arrived, I was outside and Billy, her husband, pulled up and I ran to his car and I said, "Billy, she's gone." And he said "What do you mean?" And I said, "Jennifer's dead." And he sunk to the ground and....

KING: How old are the kids?

HULST: Keegan (ph) is 10. Rilen (ph) is three and Jarria (ph) will be a year February.

KING: The 10-year-old has to be taking this the worst, right?

HULST: You know, he's -- he is so much his mother. He's so strong, and he is so optimistic and bright-eyed and he's trying to be strong for everybody.

KING: I'm going to take a break, Nina, hold right on and thanks for your composure.

HULST: Thank you.

KING: I don't know how you're doing it.

And we will get Roger Dreyer's thoughts on what legally they can do, vis-a-vis the radio station. Don't go away.


KING: With Nina Hulst in Sacramento is her attorney, Roger Dreyer. What do you plan to do, Roger?

ROGER DREYER, FAMILY'S ATTORNEY: We plan to investigate this, Larry, and to make certain the people that are accountable for it are held accountable in a civil court.

KING: Did she -- probably she did. Did she sign a release?

DREYER: Well, it's an interesting story. We are trying to get Entercom and radio station provide us with what has been identified as a release. They have not given it to us. I'm fairly confident that there's not a release in a legal sense but, if anything, probably a media release. We talked with the other contestants and the release itself was simply along the lines of -- that there was a release to utilize their identity, their voice, things of that nature.

KING: Will this be probably a wrongful death suit?

DREYER: Yes, we represent the family, Billy and the three children and what is going to be claims for negligent conduct on the part of the station and the management and the individuals along with intentional and punitive damage allegations.

KING: John Gary (ph), the vice president and general manager of KDND's parent company Entercom has posted a statement on their station's Web site and says, "It offers sympathy to the family and loved ones of Jennifer Strange."

It also says, "I want to assure you that the circumstances regarding this matter are being examined as thoroughly as possible. We are doing everything that we can to deal with this difficult situation in a manner that's both respectful and responsible. Our employees, our efforts to get comments from any of the employees fired in the aftermath of this have been unsuccessful."

Does that statement suffice?

DREYER: I don't know what it would suffice, Larry. Actions speak louder than words and the time for them to take action was not now, in terms of looking into it, it was to evaluate what their conduct was going to be and why in the pursuit of ratings and advertisement dollars they did not take the time to evaluate the circumstance what they were putting people into.

KING: In addition to the water and killing of the -- the unfortunate killing of Nina's daughter, were the actions of the employees on the air, is that going to be part of the suit, the joking?

DREYER: Well, I think the level of callousness that the station showed through the acts of their employees and through the acts that proceed even during the contest are clearly going to be a part of it. I'm certain you've listened to the audio.

KING: I have.

DREYER: And it's -- I'm sure for someone like you, who is a radio guy from the beginning, having that level of callousness and irresponsibility and just complete wanton disregard for the people involved has got to be a frightening experience for anybody to hear in your industry.

KING: It is almost incredible. Nina, you're going to a memorial service we understand tonight?

HULST: That is correct, Larry.

KING: Who is -- is the family giving it?

HULST: Yes, it is the family.

KING: So will the children be there, or just the 10-year-old?

HULST: No. All three children will be there. However, the oldest will be the only one that will be able to see his mom, say his final goodbyes in that respect. The three-year-old, he would not understand why his mommy is just laying there and isn't waking up and holding him.

KING: When is the funeral?

HULST: At this time we are not quite certain of that. We are just taking it day -- day by day by day.

KING: Thanks, Nina, you did extraordinary ...

HULST: Thank you.

KING: Under difficult circumstances. And Roger, keep us posted.

DREYER: We will, Larry, thank you very much.

HULST: Thank you.

KING: Nina Hulst, Roger Dreyer on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. We will be right back.


KING: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE.

Finding the missing boy Shawn Hornbeck alive one week ago was miraculous enough. But that it took another missing boy's rescue to find him -- incredible hours after kidnapping suspect Michael Devlin's arraignment Thursday, I spoke with Shawn Hornbeck's mom and step dad. Pam and Craig Akers. I asked about the moment they learned that their son was coming home.


PAM AKERS, SHAWN HORNBECK'S MOTHER: A Friday night, Craig and I were on our way home from work. We were still about halfway home. We had gotten a call from the prosecuting attorney's office. When I heard it was him it sounded like -- I immediately handed Craig the phone because I just didn't want to take the call and he had to ask Craig, you know, where we were at. He told him we were driving. He asked us to find a place to pull over. So we did. It took us a couple minutes, which seems like it was forever. And then Craig was talking to him and the next thing I know I heard Craig say, "He's alive."

When I heard him say he was alive, that was the last thing I heard. It was just so wonderful to hear them words.

KING: Craig, when you were asked to pull over, did you think the worst?

CRAIG AKERS, SHAWN HORNBECK'S FATHER: Naturally, that was one of the thoughts that went through my head. There was one of two possible things that he wanted to tell me, in my opinion. And definitely, it did cross my mind. Especially asking me to pull over really, you know, set that into motion.

KING: It would have thrown me. How is he doing, Pam? How is your boy doing in how is he filling his time? Is he reconnecting with friends? Give us a look at Shawn today.

P. AKERS: He's just trying to get to re-know his sisters again. He's got some cousins that were born that -- while he was gone.

He's getting to know them. Re-getting to know us. He's revisited with some friends. Rode his four-wheeler and played video games and just trying to spend quality time with his family and friends.

KING: With all that he went through, Craig, is he fairly OK?

C. AKERS: Well, you know, physically he seems to be all right. Naturally, there's no way we can know how he feels inside and after four years and three months, obviously, there has to be something going on inside mentally. But outward appearances are very good and everything else we can deal with over time. I think with God's help, therapists' help and the support of our friends, family and community, I think we will all be able to pull through this.

KING: Pam, is he talking about what happened to him?

P. AKERS: He has not said a whole lot to us yet. We have told him when he's ready to come to us, we are willing to listen to anything he wants to share with us.

One of the first things after all of these interviews, we will start getting into our therapist and getting Shawn to talk with whatever went on with him and try to cope with whatever went on with him. And to help the family deal with what might have happened.

KING: Has he mentioned at all, Craig, the suspect, Michael Devlin?

C. AKERS: I think his name has come up once or twice. I really don't think that he feels comfortable saying the name or really talking very much about him at this point. I cannot say as I blame him. And we are certainly not going to rush him into anything. When he's ready to talk about whatever he wants to talk about, he know that we will be there to listen. And when the time comes, we are hopeful that he will share some things with us.

KING: You're extraordinary parents. You have said you believe he was sexually assaulted. Pam, is that just based on knowledge of these kinds of things or something you have learned?

P. AKERS: It's not something I have learned. It's just based on the statistics, unfortunately, that Craig and I have had to read over the past four and a half years on different cases like this. And that's just a big possibility that's in my mind that I just cannot seem to get out of there.

And that will be one of the questions that eventually I'm hoping Shawn will be able to answer for me.

KING: Are the authorities, Craig, questioning Shawn?

C. AKERS: He went and was interviewed on last Saturday and we were told that he did a very, very good job. It was videotaped. And afterwards the investigators felt that he had given them probably all of the information that they needed. They felt that he had been truthful and honest and giving them everything that would help them with their case. They felt that there was a very good possibility they would not have to interview him again, that they had already gotten everything that they would need.

KING: But you realize, Craig, he will -- not probably but definitely, if there is a trial, he is going to have to testify.

C. AKERS: Sure, we realize that's a very real possibility. And we will cross that bridge when we come to it. You know, if that's what has to happen, I'm confident that he will have the strength to be able to stand up tall and take care of what needs to be taken care of. He's a very strong boy.

KING: How much do you want to know, Pam? How many details do you want to know about what happened to your boy?

P. AKERS: Part of me wants to know all of it. Part of me is not -- I don't know if I'm ready to know all of it. But if Shawn wants me to know all of it, then I will deal with it in my way. And I just want him to know he can tell me anything. I don't want him to think he has to hold anything back from me.

KING: Do you fear anything worse than a sexual molestation?

P. AKERS: At this time I have not given it any more thought. We have been trying to focus on just Shawn, just having him home, trying to have good times. The last four and a half years have been a nightmare and the last four days has been just wonderful to have him back and be back as a family and actually be able to -- me and Craig and the two girls and Shawn sit down and have a family meal. It's been so long that we have even had a family meal, we cherished that moment when we had our first family meal after he came home.

KING: This is, of course, such an unusual case, maybe unparalleled case. How different is the Shawn now to the Shawn then, Craig?

C. AKERS: Physically, naturally, there's changes. He's taller and you know, he's gone through puberty.

But, you know, minute by minute, hour by hour, I'm seeing more and more of the hold Shawn coming out. The mischievous Shawn who likes to play tricks, likes to laugh. It's just slowly but surely the Shawn that we know and love is just coming back stronger and stronger. I see a lot of the 11-year-old boy in him. And we are confident that someday that he will be able to put this behind him and move forward.

KING: Pam, had you, frankly, given up?

P. AKERS: No, I never gave up on Shawn. I never gave up on us finding Shawn. That's one thing that the message Craig and I are trying to give out to other parents with missing children, is you just never can give up that hope.

You can never give up that faith. It's the parent's responsibility to keep their name out there and keep their pictures out there. It's the community, the neighbors, everybody's responsibility to take their blinders off and start paying attention to who's around them. If you have any suspicious whatsoever, call the authorities. If you're wrong, you're wrong. But if you're right, can you get that next person, the next parents the same miracle that we've received. KING: Craig, do you accept the Stockholm syndrome as the reason Shawn didn't run away when Mr. Devlin went to work?

C. AKERS: Well, that's certainly a possibility. I have had just a little bit of time to do a little bit of research and read a little more about it, to try to understand one of the possible things he could be going through. And it's a very -- very plausible explanation. It very well could be that.

KING: Pam, what's the first thing he wanted to do?

C. AKERS: Go to McDonald's. He was hungry and he wanted to go to McDonald's so we took him to McDonald's.

KING: We will be right back with Pam and Craig Akers. What an incredible story. Extraordinary couple. Don't go away. When we come back, more with Shawn Hornbeck's parents, as they tell me their feelings about the man accused of making their lives a living hell for the past four years.



KING: Welcome back. Before we hear more from Shawn Hornbeck's parents. Let's hear from Shawn himself. Here's a portion of what aired on Thursday's "Oprah Winfrey Show."


OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: Can you tell me how you got through these past few years?


WINFREY: Hope and praying. You said you would pray and cross yourself every night?


WINFREY: And what would the prayer be?

HORNBECK: That one day my parents would find me and I would be reunited with them.


KING: You can see how happy he is to be back home. That leads to my next question for his mom and step-dad.


KING: You have to know people are asking about why he didn't run away, why didn't he call 911. Have you asked him any of that yet or is it too soon, Craig? C. AKERS: No, it's definitely too soon. One of the recommendations we are given by counselors and therapists was not to ask him any questions.


C. AKERS: When he's ready, he will talk about it. If we try to force answers out of him, there just can't be any good that will come out of that. We have got to remember Shawn was 11 years old when he was abducted. He was a very young, impressionable boy.

Some of these statistics, some of the research I have done, has shown that a boy of that age, it doesn't take very long for a person that knows what they are doing to mentally manipulate them into doing whatever they want them to. It's happened many, many times. This would not be the first.

KING: Pam, what do you make of the several new body piercings?

P. AKERS: I wasn't very happy to see all of them. We have had a few discussions about them. He has removed a few of them for me. And we will work on the others.

KING: By the way, has he run into, seen Ben Ownby, the other boy taken much later?

C. AKERS: He saw Ben when they were both examined at the hospital the same day they were found. We did run into him again Saturday, but he has not seen him since then.

KING: Pam, are you amazed in all of these years he was not spotted?

P. AKERS: Well, that's part of our message we are trying to get out. We are trying to get out that apparently there were several people around Shawn that had a gut feeling that it was Shawn Hornbeck but yet no one ever came forward. Even if you would call the authorities and if it would not have been Shawn, what harm did you do? By not calling the authorities because you thought it was Shawn, you kept our son away longer than what he should have been away.

KING: Craig, when Ben Ownby went missing, did you -- did you at all think any link?

C. AKERS: No. Nothing, you know, jumped out there at me.

And that's, I guess, primarily because, when -- when Shawn vanished, it was as if he vanished into thin air. We never had even one shred of evidence, one witness, one anything to go by. So, you know, every -- everything, in our eyes, was a possibility.

So, there really wasn't anything that tied the two together for us.

KING: Shawn -- Pam, Shawn has said that he crossed himself and prayed every night that you would find him. Did it surprise you to learn that?

P. AKERS: No, I did -- no, it's not.

We -- we -- the whole family believes in God. We're a religion family. We are a close family. And he knew that we would just never give up on looking for him. He knew, eventually, we were going to find him and bring him home.

KING: During those years, Craig, when -- that's -- four years is a long time -- you would learn about missing children, you would learn about the girl in Utah and others being found, how -- how did you react? Did your optimism go up, go down? What?

C. AKERS: I remember the day that Elizabeth Smart was found. I was actually in an R.V. going up to Canada to do some training with one of our search dogs.

And I remember how much that lifted my spirits. Talking with my wife, she was just ecstatic. We were both ecstatic. It -- it really was a shot in the arm for us, to give us, you know, that additional strength, that additional hope. It just kind of like jump-started us all over again.

It was fantastic. And that's -- that's another reason why we are wanting to get our message out. We know how much that helped us. And we are hoping that this will do the same for other families.

KING: What are your feelings, Pam, about Mr. Devlin, in that he -- no criminal record, long time on one job? Is he a puzzle to you? What are your feelings?

P. AKERS: I have been trying not to think about him. I have been trying to just focus and making Shawn happy, making Shawn feel safe again.

The only thing I would have to say to that man is, if he has got ounce of decency in him, he will do the right thing. He will stand up to the plate, do the right thing, and not these -- make -- not make these boys testify...

KING: Craig, what do you think about him?

P. AKERS: ... because there's no doubt in my mind he's guilty.

KING: Craig?

C. AKERS: Oh, I'm -- I'm really con -- I'm concerned that Shawn wasn't -- wasn't the first one.


P. AKERS: I believe he was 31 years old at the time of Shawn's abduction. And I just can't see how you would wake up one day, when you're 31 years old, and -- and do something like this. Some of the statistics I have looked at, specifically concerning sexual predators, indicate that they have done something at least 117 times before they are caught for the first time.

So, you know, I have heard that they are looking into the Arlin Henderson case. It has many parallels to Shawn's case -- same age. They resemble each other -- both out riding their bike. There's a lot of similarities there. And I hope they really dig into that one, and -- and give it some -- some good thought.

I -- I'm -- I just feel in my gut that there could be more victims out there.

KING: A lot of people say to themselves, Pam, that, if this happened to my kid, and he came back, I would never let him out of my sight again.

Do you feel that way?

P. AKERS: Yes. At this time, we are not letting Shawn out of our sight. Even though he's not here with us down here to school, I have several family members that's around him that is not going to let him out of sight for us.

And Shawn understands that, that that's how it is going to have to be for a while.

KING: And the reason you're coming forward, Craig, is to help other parents?

C. AKERS: Yes, that's our primary message, is to give a message of hope to other families that have missing children, to let them know that it's possible for your child to come home. It's possible for you to have a miracle, too. Don't give up hope. Keep the faith. Stay strong. Don't let the public, don't let the media forget that your child is missing. And, you know, this can happen to you. And we will do everything we can to help. And, you know, you just can never give up, never give up hope.

KING: During the time, Pam, did you ever have, during those four years, guilt? Did you ever say: Man, I should have been there; I shouldn't have let him go; this might have been my fault?

That's logical, to have that.

P. AKERS: Oh, sure. For the whole four-and-a-half years that Shawn was gone, I blamed myself. I blamed myself for letting him ride his bike. I have blamed myself for not doing something with him that day.

But, then, the rural area that we lived out of, Shawn rode his bike every weekend. And we just felt that he was secure down here. And, unfortunately, in the world nowadays, your child is not safe anywhere.

KING: Shawn -- the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation, will it remain, Craig?

C. AKERS: Oh, absolutely. I -- I think it's going to flourish and grow stronger. This is a -- a big shot in the arm for the foundation. It validates the work that we do.

I have been reading e-mails. And there's multitudes of people asking how they can help the foundation. They want to be a part of the foundation. They want to help the search team. I think it is going to grow exponentially.

KING: Thank you, both. Give him our best. And we wish you the best of luck.

P. AKERS: Thank you.

C. AKERS: No, thank you, Larry.

KING: We will be right back.


KING (voice-over): Up next: the man who will prosecute Michael Devlin for the armed kidnapping of Shawn Hornbeck, and a mother whose missing daughter may somehow be connected to this case -- when "LARRY KING LIVE" returns.



KING: We have only a limited time, but joining us in the Washington County courthouse in Potosi, Missouri, is John Rupp, the prosecuting attorney for Washington County, and, in Saint Louis, Shannon Tanner. Her daughter, 13-year-old Bianca Noel Piper, disappeared in March of 2005 walking on a rural road in Foley, Missouri.

John, first, let's -- caught up with you.

What has Mr. Devlin been charged with?

JOHN RUPP, WASHINGTON COUNTY, MISSOURI, PROSECUTOR: Mr. Devlin has been charged with kidnapping and armed criminal action out of Washington County. He's also been charged with kidnapping out of Franklin County.

KING: Are there also pending at all federal charges?

RUPP: At this time, there are no federal charges pending. I have been in contact with the U.S. attorney's office. And I don't think they have made any decision, at this particular time, whether or not they are going to proceed with any kind of federal charges. But that has yet to be determined.

KING: The Frankly County prosecutor, Robert Parks, says that Devlin confessed to kidnapping Ben Ownby. If that's true, did he make any admissions with regard to Shawn?

RUPP: Mr. King, I hope you can understand I'm kind of limited, under the Missouri rules of ethics. I can't give you too much information, because I have got to try to protect Mr. Devlin, so he can have a fair trial.

All I can tell you is that we have filed charges based on evidence that we have received, that you're going to have to let the legal process play out.

KING: I understand.

RUPP: I'm sure, at some point, that you will see all the information that comes.


RUPP: But I'm not trying to -- to hide anything from anybody.

KING: I understand.

RUPP: We have just got to be fair.

KING: His attorneys have said they will definitely seek a change of venue. Will you fight that?

RUPP: Unfortunately, because Washington County is a small third- class rural county, under the Missouri rules of procedure, they are automatically entitled to a change of venue, irregardless of press coverage...


RUPP: ... or whatever. So, I cannot fight a change of venue. The issue, obviously, is going to be, if they do that, where is the venue going to land?

KING: I -- I got you.

Shannon, your daughter went missing. And we understand that, after Michael Devlin's arrest, authorities questioned you about your daughter. Is there any connection here between your daughter and Devlin?

SHANNON TANNER, MOTHER OF BIANCA NOEL PIPER: What I understand is that it's possible that Devlin may have been studying Bianca's case, and may have participated in the search for her.

KING: Have you had any leads at all about Bianca?

TANNER: Actually, "America's Most Wanted" has called the sheriff's department, and told us that there were four new leads that came through after Shawn and Ben were found in the next state, in Illinois, next to us.

KING: Does Shawn and Ben being found increase your hopes? TANNER: Absolutely. Our family was starting to lose hope, but this has renewed our spirits and made us eager and excited to go out there and try to find Bianca.

KING: What was she doing on that rural road?

TANNER: Bianca was trying to work off some energy. She had requested to take the walk, because she didn't want to do the dishes. And there was a little argument. We didn't want her to go, but we thought maybe it was best she knew what was -- that she needed to calm herself down.

KING: How do you deal with it day by day?

TANNER: Well, it's really hard to deal with.

I wake up, and that's the first thing I think about. And, before I go to sleep, it's the last thing I think about, hoping that my daughter is safe, wherever she is at.

KING: She just disappeared while walking?

TANNER: Yes. Within 15 minutes, when she hadn't walked in the door, we were out on the road, looking for her. And there was just no sign of her.

KING: John, are these tough cases to prosecute?

RUPP: That's hard for me to answer. Yes, they can be very difficult cases to -- to prosecute.

They are very difficult on victims, especially when you have children as victims. Sometimes, the court process can actually be almost as traumatic as the events that the perpetrator is charged with. That's why we -- we are trying to ease through this as slowly as we can, to try to get Shawn prepared, and not try to rush into anything.

But, like every other case, the difficulty also depends on what other kind of evidence you have. And, in this particular case, it probably is -- is one of my stronger cases that I have.

KING: Ideally, if Devlin is guilty of what -- guilty of what he is going to be -- or what he's charged with, it would be ideal if he confessed, to spare the boys testifying, right?

RUPP: Well, ideally, that -- that would be. However, whether that is -- is or isn't the case, we are preparing to go forward with the evidence that we have in hand.

Whether or not Devlin will step up to the plate, do the right thing, and enter a plea to spare these boys the trauma of courtroom testimony and cross-examination, is yet to be seen. It -- it could happen, but I -- I don't know that.

KING: Shannon, we understand Bianca suffers from bipolar disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Does she take a lot of medication?

TANNER: She was taking a lot of medicine before she disappeared.

KING: Huh. God, that adds to the woes.

Good luck with you, Shannon. We are going to stay close and follow this up with our friend John Walsh...

TANNER: Thank you.

KING: ... at "America's Most Wanted."

And, John Rupp, we will stay in touch with you, too. And we understand what you couldn't say.

And we appreciate both of you being with us...

RUPP: Thank you.

TANNER: Thank you.

KING: ... John Rupp...

RUPP: You're welcome.

KING: ... and Shannon Tanner.

Lots more to come on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


KING: State of the Union preview coming up Monday night.

Anderson Cooper coming up at the top of the hour.

What's up tonight, Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Larry, an ominous announcement from the Middle East -- another country there has declared its intentions to pursue a nuclear program. We will tell you which country it is, and why it threatens to create a new nuclear race in the region.

We will also bring you more details on Shawn Hornbeck's situation -- tonight: how a famous TV psychic is now figuring into the story. She actually told the Hornbecks that Shawn was dead, told them where to search for his body. You won't believe what else she told desperate parents over the years -- that story and more, Larry, at the top of the hour.

KING: That's "ANDERSON COOPER," 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific.

We get an over -- we got an overwhelming response to last night's show with "American Idol" winners Taylor Hicks and then Fantasia Barrino. We will replay the whole show Sunday night -- but, right now, some highlights, like when I asked Taylor Fantasia what they make of the show's incredible staying power.


TAYLOR HICKS, "AMERICAN IDOL" WINNER: Well, I just think -- I think it allows people to -- you know, to get into a particular entertainer very quickly, and follow their careers very quickly.

You know, it would be like going and seeing Bruce Springsteen in -- in a club, and quickly following his career and -- and career path. It just allow -- it allows you to do that from the privacy of your own home.

KING: You don't have to do the Holiday Inn, the Ramada Inn, the Howard Johnsons...





KING: ... the local theater.

Why do you think it's so popular, Fantasia?

FANTASIA BARRINO, "AMERICAN IDOL" WINNER: Well, you know, it gives -- like you said, it gives people the opportunity to do something that they always wanted to do. I know that is very tough now to get into record companies, and it's very tough to get somebody to recognize you.

So, when a show like this allows so many people the opportunity, even if you don't win, it allows you the opportunity to -- you know, to show your talent to -- to America.

KING: It creates a break?

HICKS: It definitely creates a break.

KING: That would have been impossible to get anywhere else, right?

HICKS: Yeah. I was...


KING: What were you doing?

HICKS: Ten years, I was playing Holiday Inns...


HICKS: ... and Days Inns. And, you know, I was playing anything that I could find, anywhere, any time, any place. KING: Fantasia, what were you doing?

BARRINO: Same here, singing in churches and whatever somebody would ask me to sing on. I was -- I was doing the same, yeah.

KING: All right, season six premiered Tuesday night -- highest opening ratings they ever had.

And we're going to show you a clip from that program and get the comments of our guests. This was an audition show. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Lean on me when you're not strong, and I will be your friend. I will help you carry on.

SIMON COWELL, JUDGE: This has been one of the worst days we have ever had. And you are probably the worst we have had today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Stand beside her and guide her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sounds real good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I like big...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... butts and I cannot lie.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You other brothers can deny.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When a girl walks in with an itty-bitty waist and a round thing in your face, you get sprung.

COWELL: What was that net she was wearing?

RANDY JACKSON, JUDGE: Simon, you don't have to talk about her tan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Who is that girl I see?

COWELL: Paula, Paula...

JACKSON: Tone down.

COWELL: Paula...


COWELL: Paula, yes or no.

JACKSON: Tone down.

COWELL: Paula, yes or no. No!

JACKSON: Tone down.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): If you want me, girl let me know. I am down on my knees.

COWELL: You look a little odd. Your dancing is terrible. The singing was horrendous. And you look like one of those creatures that live in the jungle with those massive eyes. What are they called? Bush baby.

PAULA ABDUL, JUDGE: Simon, you are sick.


KING: OK, Taylor, frankly, is that program, frankly, taking advantage of people, obviously, who shouldn't be on television?

HICKS: I don't think so. I think everybody, you know, has an opportunity to be heard and on that show, you have that opportunity. So, I don't think it's taking advantage of. I think the show is there for you to expose the talents that you think you have in singing and performing. And, you know, you have to take that chance.

KING: So, you don't think they were embarrassing themselves?

HICKS: No. They don't think they are.

BARRINO: They don't think that they're embarrassing themselves. They are really, you know...

KING: They're serious?


KING: But, when the show puts them on, isn't the show saying, we're going to have fun at their expense?

BARRINO: I think so, sometimes, because they know, you know -- from what I have seen, it's just been a lot of funny stuff. I haven't -- I have been watching, and I haven't really seen them show the -- I don't want to say real talent, but the people who are really serious, and know that they have a true gift.

KING: Why did the public, in the highest number ever, watch that show for an opening show?

HICKS: Well, I ...

KING: They weren't seeing talent.

HICKS: Well, you know, I think it's the -- the "American Idol" viewer. And I think it starts from the beginning stages of the show. I think it starts from -- you know, my audition was Las Vegas. And, you know, there was a lot of people watching that -- that first audition cities. And I think that's kind of the start of the -- of the -- of the growth of -- of finding your singer that you like in that show, and following that singer all the way to the end.

KING: So, it's a process?

HICKS: It's a process.

KING: And the good with the bad?

HICKS: You get the good with the bad.

Simon, he just wasn't having any part of what I was doing. But...


HICKS: Simon -- yeah, Simon just -- he was -- I think it was the end of the day for me, too. They had -- they had had it. And, you know, luckily, Randy and -- and Paula liked the throwback style that I have so...

KING: So, Simon would have voted against you?

HICKS: I don't think Simon liked me at all through the whole competition.


KING: You don't think he liked you when you won?

HICKS: I don't know. I don't think so, you know? So, I will -- I will have -- you will have -- might have to ask him that.


KING: I will.

We will be back with Taylor Hicks and Fantasia Barrino on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Ryan will join us right after this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): You don't need experience to turn me out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): You just leave it all up to me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I will show you what it's all about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): You don't have to be rich to be my girl. You... UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): ... don't have to be cool to rule my world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Ain't no particular sign I'm more compatible with.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I just need your extra time and your...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): ... kiss. Hah! I shake a little shake.




KING: Welcome back.

A few more highlights of Taylor, Fantasia, and Ryan Seacrest.

One viewer's e-mail read that Simon Cowell said America would never make Taylor the winner. So, when Taylor won, was that America telling Simon that his opinion didn't matter?



HICKS: Yeah, I think there is that game that Simon plays with the voting public.

And, you know, I -- he didn't really like me at first. I don't know if he still does. But, yes, I think that's an interesting question. I don't -- I think -- yeah, there is a game that -- that he plays with the viewers. And that's one of them, possibly.

KING: Shtick. His shtick?



KING: Ryan, what you to think?

RYAN SEACREST, HOST, "AMERICAN IDOL": Well, I think, with Taylor and with Fantasia, they're very talented, but they're also spirited. And people were really invested in both of them.

And it was obviously a -- a passionate investment. And they wanted to show up in the numbers in the voting to put them to where that they got -- you know, where they got to be, two winners.

As Taylor said, you know, Simon definitely is -- I guess the right word -- is aware of everything that he's doing. And I -- I don't think he doesn't like you, Taylor, at all. I really believe that -- that he's being as honest as he can be in the moment. And -- and, listen, we all say things on that show that, when we go back and watch it again, we think, aye, yay, yay, yay, I can't believe I said that.

It is a live telecast, for the most part.

KING: Ryan, how many people vote?

SEACREST: Oh, millions and millions and millions.

And people, you know, they find their favorite, and they try and vote as often as they can. And, if they can't get through, they stay up and try and get through in that window. It's -- it's part of the beauty of this program. It is interactive. And, essentially, the judges whittle it down to a group for America to look at. And America picks their "Idol."

I mean, look -- look at the two personalities and -- and the talent sitting across from you, Larry, with Fantasia and Taylor. These are two very different individuals. But they have a few things in common, obviously, music, and success on "American Idol." That's a great thing. This program brings different kinds of people together.

KING: Yeah. And it has replaced -- but Tyler -- Taylor said something during the break. There has always has been an amateur show on somewhere.

When I was a kid, on the radio, there was Ted Mack's "Amateur Hour." Frank Sinatra won that show. "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts." There's always been a popular draw.

HICKS: "Star Search."

KING: "Star Search."


KING: All right -- to see young people succeed. Isn't that the attraction?


It's the underdog story. It's the unknown making it. It's the -- the person, the Taylor, the Fantasia, the Kelly in a small town, a place far from Hollywood, that's never had a chance to be here, that has never gotten on an airplane.

It's that story and ride of them, from essentially having a dream, to living that dream, and -- and having success.

You know, talent, likability, poise, handling the criticism, sum of all parts. America is very savvy. And, certainly, they know what they want. And they get behind the person that they want, and they vote for them, and then they see who makes it at the end. KING: Ryan, I know you got to run, because you probably got another job to do.


SEACREST: You're a dear friend.

KING: You, too.

SEACREST: I will talk to you.

KING: Ryan Seacrest, the host of "American Idol."


KING: (AUDIO GAP) show Sunday night. Monday night, our preview of the State of the Union message.

One quick note, before we turn it over to Anderson: A good friend and an American treasure passed away yesterday, Art Buchwald, the brilliant humorist for so many years out of Paris and Washington, who entertained America with his columns and his wonderful books, who went into a hospice to die, and didn't, came out, and lived another seven months -- Art Buchwald beating the odds.

A great man gone, but never forgotten -- Anderson.

COOPER: Larry, thanks very much. Nice words.


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