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FBI rescues 5-year-old from bunker

MIDLAND CITY, Ala.

Authorities stormed an underground bunker Monday in Alabama, freeing a 5-year-old boy and leaving his increasingly agitated captor dead after a week of fruitless negotiations that left authorities convinced the child was in imminent danger.

Stephen Richardson, the special agent in charge of the FBI's division in Mobile, told reporters that the boy, named Ethan, was rescued at 3:12 p.m. and that he "appeared physically unharmed and is being treated at a local hospital."

Jimmy Lee Dykes, 65, who took Ethan off a school bus after fatally shooting the driver last week, was killed in the rescue. It as not immediately clear how he died.

Authorities said that Ethan, who was described as having of Asperger's syndrome, appeared unharmed. He was taken to a hospital in Dothan, and the boy and his mother were relieved to be reunited, Richardson said. "He's laughing, joking, playing, eating — the things that you would expect a normal 5- to 6-year-old young man to do. He's very brave. He's very lucky."

In comments to reporters after the rescue, Richardson suggested that talks with Dykes had recently broken down.

"FBI agents, fearing the child was in imminent danger, entered the bunker and rescued the child," Richardson said.

Dykes was known by neighbors for his anti-government rants and for patrolling his property with a gun, ready to shoot trespassers. He had stayed for several days in the tiny bunker before.

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

Late Monday, officers were sweeping the property to make sure Dykes had not set up any bombs that could detonate.

Michael Senn, pastor of a church near where reporters had been camped out since the standoff began, said he was relieved that Ethan had been taken to safety. However, he also recalled the bus driver, Charles Albert Poland Jr., who had been hailed as a hero for protecting nearly two dozen other children on the bus before being shot by Dykes.

"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," Senn said.

The standoff began last Tuesday when Dykes approached a bus driven by Poland, saying he wanted to give him some broccoli he had grown in his garden. The two knew each other; Poland had given Dykes a gift of eggs and homemade jam several days earlier. Once on the bus, Dykes handed Poland a note and demanded two children between the ages of 6 and 8.

Poland opened the emergency door in the back of the bus and as the children escaped he blocked Dykes' way; Dykes shot him four times, killing him. Dykes then managed to take Ethan and set off the six-day siege.

"He was a very bad man, a terrible man," said Terrica Singletary, 14, who was among the 20 children who managed to flee.

On Sunday, Poland was given a hero's funeral attended by hundreds who had never met him.

The rescue capped a long drama that drew national attention to this town of 2,400 people nestled amid peanut farms and cotton fields that has long relied on a strong Christian faith, a policy of "love thy neighbor" and the power of group prayer. The boy's plight prompted nightly candlelight vigils.

Throughout the ordeal, officials had been in constant communication with Dykes on a mobile phone and passed toys, food and coloring books into the bunker through a plastic pipe Dykes had put in so he could hear trespassers on his property. Officials had also been able to pass medication to Ethan.

The bunker apparently had running water, heat and cable television but no toilet. It was about 4 feet underground, with about 50 square feet of floor space.

Government records indicate Dykes served in the Navy from 1964 to 1969, earning several awards, including the Vietnam Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.

He had some scrapes with the law in North Florida, including a 1995 arrest for improper exhibition of a weapon. The misdemeanor was dismissed. He also was arrested for marijuana possession in 2000.

He returned to Alabama about two years ago, moving onto the rural tract about 100 yards from his nearest neighbors.

Neighbors speculated that Dykes had kidnapped the boy as part of a scheme to air his thoughts and grievances on a larger platform, and at a news conference earlier in the day Tuesday, Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson acknowledged that to be a major motive.

For some time, officials had been able to monitor movements within the bunker using high-tech surveillance equipment, the New York Times reported, citing two people who had been briefed on the operation. Authorities had also built a mock-up of the bunker nearby, where authorities could test various options for a rescue.

On Monday afternoon, sensing that Dykes was becoming rattled and that the threat to the boy was growing more severe, the authorities dropped two devices into the bunker that created loud explosions, heard by people across the highway. The explosions disoriented Dykes, and immediately afterward two or three men moved into the bunker and retrieved Ethan.

Ronda Wilbur, a neighbor who said Dykes beat her dog to death last year, said she was relieved to be done with the stress of knowing Dykes was patrolling his yard and willing to shoot at anyone or anything that trespassed. "The nightmare is over," she said.

Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.

FBI rescues 5-year-old from bunker 02/04/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 12:25am]

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