It took seven days for the covert operation to come together but with the help of a mock bunker, a spy camera and numerous training exercises, the rescue of five-year-old Ethan was carried out with military precision.
It was revealed today how the FBI Hostage Rescue Team exploded their way into the bunker, dramatically rescuing Ethan and killing his abductor Jimmy Lee Dykes after a secret high-tech camera alerted them to the fact the boy’s life was in danger.
Agents became increasingly concerned the 65-year-old’s behavior would turn violent after their negotiations with him ‘deteriorated’ in the final 24 hours.
FBI Special Agent Steve Richardson said: ‘Dykes was observed holding a gun.
‘At this point, the FBI agents, fearing the child was in imminent danger, entered the bunker and rescued the child.’
After almost one week of being held hostage, Ethan was finally back in his mother’s arms unharmed, smiling and in good spirits, playing with his toy dinosaur.
Special agent Richardson said: ‘I’ve been to the hospital. I visited with Ethan. He is doing fine.
‘He’s laughing, joking, playing, eating, the things that you would expect a normal five-to-six-year-old young man to do. He’s very brave, he’s very lucky, and the success story is that he’s out safe and doing great.’
After the raid was complete, FBI bomb technicians checked the property for improvised explosive devices.
Sources told ABCNews the rescue team had been using the nearby mock bunker to train agents for different scenarios in which they could get Ethan out.
Military surveillance equipment and personnel were used during the raid after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta personally approved its use for the operation.
As well as the FBI, the law enforcement services of Dale County and Mobile, Alabama, the State Patrol and Sheriff’s office have combined to mount the rescue operation under intense scrutiny and under a veil of secrecy.
State Sen Harri Anne Smith revealed: ‘She put her hand on the officer’s heart and said, “Sir, don’t hurt him. He’s sick”.’
Ethan is expected to be released from hospital later today and will go home to his family ready to celebrate his sixth birthday tomorrow.
His great aunt and uncle spoke to ABC about the family’s relief that Ethan is back and safe.
Deborah Cooke said: ‘he is so happy to be home, we all are, and he looks great. His mom said everything is fine.’
She said her nephew is the kind of boy who lights up a room whenever he enters it and is always going 90mph. As for Dykes, the family did not know him personally but believed he was well-known in the community for having many issues.
The week-long ordeal finally came to a dramatic conclusion at 3.12pm yesterday.
Speaking last night Sheriff Wally Olson, who has been on the site almost constantly since Ethan’s abduction and the shooting of school bus driver Mr Charles ‘Chuck’ Poland, said: ‘He’s a very special child who’s endured a lot and by the grace of God he’s okay.’
He added that, speaking as a parent himself, ‘It is a relief to reunite a mother with her child.’
That longed-for reunion took place at Flowers Hospital, where Ethan was taken following his rescue. He arrived sitting up on a stretcher.
But the past few days of Ethan’s life and those of the many law enforcement officers and friends and family here in Midland City, Alabama, have been anything but normal.
The week-long standoff ended when FBI hostage rescue teams felt they had no choice but to forcibly enter the bunker on his property and take the boy known only as Ethan safely out.
An independent team of investigators will be brought in from Washington, DC, once the site is deemed clear and safe by the FBI’s bomb disposal experts.
Sheriff Olson would say only that a threat was perceived and that negotiations which had been ‘civil’ became ‘increasingly difficult over the past 24 hours’.
Asked if Dykes was armed when killed he said yes.
Alabama State Senator Harri Anne Smith who has been in close contact with the family throughout the ordeal said to MailOnline: ‘Mom has been incredible, she has been so brave and has always known her son would be brought home safe.
”I know there will be lots of hugs and kisses tonight,’ she said. ‘She has been surrounded by people praying and has had a lot of support. Her father has been a rock to her and her older son and her sisters.’
Dykes was killed during the fast-acting operation but law enforcement officials have yet to provide details on how he died.
Federal agents jumped into action after high-tech but secret video surveillance inserted into the bunker revealed that the mental state of Richard Lee Dykes was deteriorating rapidly.
There were reports of one or two loud bangs on the property, and a neighbor who lives about a quarter-mile from where Dykes was holed up said that he heard a boom followed by a gunshot
Another neighbor, 16-year-old Micah Senn, 16, who lives a few hundred yards away, told AL.com that he heard an explosion followed by four to five rounds of gunfire.
The boy identified all week only as Ethan was brought out from the bunker on Dykes’ property appearing to be physically unharmed and is being treated at a hospital in nearby Dothan authorities said.
Friends of the family have said that Ethan has Asperger’s Syndrome – a condition which has been likened to a minor form of autism and which affects a person’s ability to interact with other people.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Steve Richardson said during a news conference this afternoon that negotiations had broken down during the day and Dykes had been seen to grab a gun.
Those actions forced the hand of FBI agents, who entered the bunker.
Agent Richardson said: ‘At approximately 3.12pm, FBI agents safely recovered the child who was being held hostage for nearly a week.
‘Within the past 24 hours negotiations deteriorated and Mr Dykes was observed holding a gun.
‘At this point FBI agents fearing the child was in imminent danger entered the bunker and rescued the child.
‘The child appears physically unharmed and is being treated at a local hospital. The subject is deceased.
‘The resolution of the matter is a direct result of the extraordinary collaboration of law enforcement at all levels.’
CBS correspondents John Miller and Bob Orr confirmed the FBI’s Rescue Hostage Team carried out the rescue when it was clear the kidnapper’s mental state was deteriorating — and he began brandishing a gun.
Source: The Daily Mail
What is Aspergers Syndrome? How was Ethan’s ability to interact impaired?
Aspergers syndrome is a form of autism which leaves sufferers fazed with significant difficulties in social interaction, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.
The result is that they can have difficulty coping with mixing socially, working in certain kinds of jobs and developing communication skills. They may have problems with coordinating movements making them appear clumsy.
Unlike autism there are no significant delays in language development, people have normal intellect and have normal abilities to help themselves. They can adapt to different situations providing these do not rely on social interaction.
Asperger’s syndrome appears to be more prevalent in males. It seems to start later than autism or at least is recognised later. Most children are diagnosed between five and nine years of age. There may be a close relative with a similar disorder.
Although speech development is not delayed there is a tendency to lapse into long detailed talk about topics which may not appear interesting to the listener.
Children with Asperger’s may be solitary and emotionally detached, unable to enjoy joining in ‘give and take’ games or group activities with other children.
Although they may appear on the surface to be imaginative and creative they may tend to become obsessed with one particular system of ideas, which may dominate their activities and thoughts for many months or years at a time.
If they are lucky this behaviour will simply be regarded as quirky eccentricities by peers. Unfortunately some children with Asperger’s syndrome can be mercilessly teased.
It is not easy to diagnose Asperger’s syndrome. Children may be wrongly diagnosed with other neurological disorders such a Tourette’s syndrome or autism.