Alabama child hostage unharmed after rescue

10:07 AM, Feb 5, 2013   |    comments
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By Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY

Five-year-old Ethan woke up in his mother's care Tuesday for the first time in seven days after FBI agents burst into an underground bunker Monday afternoon and killed a 65-year-old man who was holding him hostage in Midland City, Ala.

The boy, identified only as Ethan, was "physically unharmed" and taken to a hospital in nearby Dothan.

Republican Rep. Steve Clouse, who represents the Midland City area, has told reporters that Ethan has Asperger's, an autism-spectrum disorder, as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. People with Asperger's are high-functioning.

"I'm a father," said Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson, who has served as the liaison to the news media since the ordeal began. "It is a relief for us to be able to reunite a mother with her child."

FBI special agent-in-charge Steve Richardson said the boy is "laughing, joking,playing, eating" with his family. "He's very brave. He's very lucky.''

"If I could, I would do cartwheels all the way down the road," the boy's great-aunt, Debra Cook, told ABC's Good Morning America on Tuesday. "We'd all been walking around in a fog."

The boy's uncle, Thomas Mabe, told dozens of well-wishers gathered in the town square that although his nephew was not hurt, "he has a long way to go," The Dothan Eagle reported.

Ethan's great-uncle, Berlin Enfinger, told ABC that "he's happy to be home, and he looks good."

Authorities said they mounted the rescue after becoming concerned about the mental state of his captor, Jimmy Lee Dykes, almost a week after he had snatched the boy from a school bus and killed the driver.

Authorities indicated that they had inserted a small camera into Dykes' 6-foot-by-8-foot bunker, buried under four feet of soil, and had been watching him throughout the ordeal.

"He was observed holding a gun," Richardson said. "At this point, FBI agents, fearing that the child was in immediate danger, entered the bunker and rescued the child."

Neighbors said they heard two loud explosions and then three or four gunshots as an FBI SWAT team rushed into the tiny bunker, overpowering and, a source told the Associated Press, killing Dykes.

Authorities were tight-lipped on details of how the team entered the small bunker opening, but CBS News reporter John Miller, quoting unidentified sources, said the rescue team "created an opportunity to bring (Dykes) to that door to accept (a) delivery."

Dykes, who had been talking to negotiators via a long plastic pipe, had let officers send down small items like crayons, toys and medicines, but had apparently been talked into opening the front door to accept a larger item, CBS reported.

"Then they threw in the distraction devices, or what are commonly called by SWAT teams 'flash bangs,'" CBS' Miller said."They made a blindingly bright light, and a huge, big noise that is very disorienting."

The three or four SWAT team members then killed Dykes and hustled Ethan out of the bunker. "This probably took seconds," Miller said.

Sheriff Olson said Dykes was armed when officers entered the bunker. He added the boy was threatened, but declined to elaborate. "That's why we went inside - to save the child," he said.

ABC News, quoting unidentified sources, reported that the FBI had built a mock bunker nearby and used it to train agents in various rescue scenarios.

This close-knit community, still grieving of the death of bus driver Charles Poland Jr. was relieved and grateful as news of Ethan's rescue spread quickly.

"As we rejoice tonight for (the boy) and his family, we still have a great emptiness in our community because a great man was lost in this whole ordeal," said Michael Senn, pastor of a church near the scene, remembering the well-liked bus driver.

Few who had encountered Dykes, however, were surprised by the violent end to the confrontation.

Neighbors described the Vietnam vet as an anti-social loner who was combative and confrontational. One said Dykes had once beaten his dog to death with a lead pipe.

He was also described as a "survivalist" with strong anti-government views.

"He always said he'd never be taken alive. I knew he'd never come out of there," said an acquaintance, Roger Arnold.

As the community tried to return to some semblance of normal, the FBI said bomb technicians "are in the process of clearing the property for improvised explosive devices."

"When it is safe to do so, our evidence response teams, paired with state and local crime scene technicians, will process the scene," the FBI said in a statement.

Olson, declining to elaborate on the rescue operation for fear of hurting future hostage negotiations, said he preferred to shift the focus.

"The success story is Ethan is safe," he said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

USA TODAY

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