A five-year-old boy from Alabama who was held captive in an underground bunker for almost a week is still recovering in hospital after his rescue by FBI agents.
The child’s kidnapper, 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes, was shot dead during the raid on Monday. Relatives of the boy, who has been named only as Ethan, said he was doing well after being reunited with his mother, and had been playing with a toy dinosaur. “He’s happy to be home, and he looks good,” the boy’s great-uncle, Berlin Enfinger, told ABC News.
FBI special agent Steve Richardson told reporters on Monday that Ethan, who has Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit disorder, was being kept in a private area at the Flowers Hospital in Dothan, Alabama. “He’s laughing, joking, playing, eating,” said Mr Richardson, “doing the things you’d expect a normal five- or six-year-old to do.”
Residents of the boy’s hometown, Midland City, plan to hold a celebration at a local high school to mark his sixth birthday, which is today. During the six-day hostage crisis, locals held nightly candlelit vigils and left ribbons in the chain-link fence at Midland City Elementary School, which Ethan attends. Pupils there have returned to class for the first time in a week.
Authorities said the decision to rescue the boy by force had been prompted by concerns about his kidnapper’s declining mental state. Mr Dykes has been described as a loner, who often ranted about the government, and had threatened to shoot children for trespassing on his property.
On 29 January, he boarded a school bus and demanded the driver, 66-year-old Charles Poland Jr, hand over two children. Mr Poland blocked the aisle as more than 20 youngsters escaped through the back emergency door. Mr Dykes then shot dead Mr Poland, before snatching Ethan.
He retreated with the boy to a bunker that he had built on his land, said to be about four feet underground, with approximately 50 square feet of floor space.
The structure reportedly had running water, heating and television, but no lavatory. The authorities, who negotiated with Mr Dykes through a plastic pipe for the duration of the six-day ordeal, supplied food and medicine, as well as snacks and a red toy car that the boy had requested.
In the 24 hours leading up to the raid, FBI experts, including a crisis negotiation team and a behavioural sciences unit, had concluded that Mr Dykes was in a downward psychological spiral. The kidnapper, who appeared agitated, had also been observed holding a gun, and the authorities said they feared for the boy’s safety. The Bureau’s hostage rescue team, which had rehearsed various rescue scenarios, stormed the bunker soon after 3pm on Monday. Locals described hearing an explosion, which the FBI later confirmed was a diversionary device, detonated to distract Dykes.
Bryon Martin, who lives nearby, told CNN, “I heard a big boom and then... I believe I heard rifle shots.”