MIDLAND CITY, Ala. — By all accounts, a 5-year-old in Alabama endured an unforgettable horror: Held for a week in a closet-size bunker underground, a captive of a volatile killer, his only comforts a Hot Wheels car and other treats passed to him by officers.
Yet after being whisked to safety by federal agents in a raid that left his kidnapper dead, the boy appeared to be acting like a normal kid: He was running around, playing with a toy dinosaur and other action figures, eating a turkey sandwich and watching “SpongeBob SquarePants," relatives and Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson said.
“We know he’s OK physically, but we don’t know how he is mentally," Betty Jean Ransbottom, the boy’s grandmother, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. She added that she feared the ordeal would stay with the child, who turns 6 today, the rest of his life.
Meanwhile, authorities grateful for a happy ending embarked on a careful investigation. Agents swept the 100-acre property for explosives for a second day as part of an investigation so painstaking that authorities had not yet removed the body of the abductor, 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes, officials said.
FBI officials have offered few details publicly about the standoff and the raid that ended it. For days, officers passed food, medicine and other items into the bunker, which was similar to a tornado shelter and apparently had running water, heat and cable television.
Ransbottom said the family also had not been told much about what happened because of the ongoing investigation. An FBI agent had been staying with the family, and relatives learned of the child’s rescue after another agent at the scene called the agent who was with them.
The family was relieved and grateful for all the support in a community where ribbons, fliers and vigils all symbolized the prayers for the safe return of the boy, whom law enforcement officials have identified by his first name, Ethan.
The boy’s mother, in a statement released by the FBI, expressed her thanks for all the hard work of so many officers to bring her son home. The woman declined to be identified, the statement said.
“For the first time in almost a week, I woke up this morning to the most beautiful sight ... my sweet boy," she said. “I can’t describe how incredible it is to hold him again."
On Monday, authorities said Dykes had a gun and appeared increasingly agitated, though it’s unclear exactly how his behavior changed. Negotiations — the details of which have not been made public — were deteriorating. Agents stormed the bunker, whisking the boy to safety and leaving Dykes dead.
Neighbors said they heard what sounded like explosions and gunshots, though the FBI and local authorities would not confirm if shots were fired or explosives detonated.
A law enforcement official in Midland City, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Dykes was killed by law enforcement agents.