MIDLAND CITY, Alabama | DMN — An elite team of FBI agents built a mock bunker and inserted a spy camera into Jimmy Lee Dyke’s underground lair to rescue five-year-old Ethan after a week of meticulous and secretive planning, it was revealed today. The FBI Hostage Rescue Team blew the doors off the bunker and shot dead the survivalist during the daring raid yesterday afternoon after footage from a secret hi-tech camera showed the boy’s life was in ‘imminent 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. For the past seven days the assembled media abided by the FBI’s requests to maintain the secrecy of the rescue by leaving unreported the movements of materials and manpower that went into the operation. Realizing Dykes had access to TV and internet in his bunker, they did not want him being made aware of the imminent threat in case he would be scared into taking action. A citadel of surveillance had been erected – all unreported until now, as negotiators hoped for a peaceful conclusion to the seven-day standoff.
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. One fire officer told reporters that once the FBI got involved, ‘it was like “Boom”, everything went quiet’. On Saturday afternoon, half a dozen huge earth movers on military transportation trucks, followed by several Hummers and vehicles carrying other military personal were moved past the site.
When journalists asked a member of the Sheriff’s department the purpose of this very obvious convoy he responded: ‘What trucks? I didn’t see any trucks.’ Such was the secretive nature of the operation. It was also revealed today that Ethan’s mother asked the FBI not to kill Dykes, a Vietnam war veteran, if they could help it because she believed he was not a well man. 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.’
SEVEN DAYS OF TERROR
Tuesday 29th January: Jimmy Lee Dykes commandeers an Alabama school bus demanding two children. Bus driver Charles Albert Poland Jr refuses and is fatally shot four times by Dykes. The 65-year-old survivalist takes a 5-year-old boy named only as Ethan to his bunker.
Wednesday 30th January: After having been alerted to kidnapping and now hostage situation, Dale County Sheriff’s Department officials and agents from the FBI begin negotiations with Dkes via a ventilation shaft the gunman has attached to his underground bunker.
Thursday 31st January: Experts continue talking to Dykes through a pipe – the only way to contact the bunker. Local community holds candlelit vigils praying for the standoff to end peacefully
Friday 1st February: Young Ethan is said to be crying for his parents. MailOnline reports that Dykes has demanded reporter in exchange for the boy as he wants to air his views
Saturday 2nd February: Saturday: Dykes allows toys and medication to be passed on via a ventilation pipe
Sunday 3rd February: Bus driver Charles Albert Poland Jr is buried amid emotional scenes as it is revealed that Dykes tricked Poland to stop his bus by promising him home-grown vegetables. It is also claimed that Dykes wants to hand over his hostage in exchange for a reporter or prime-time television exposure to tell his story.
Monday 4th February: Law enforcement officials say they are prepared to wait for weeks if not months for Dykes to give up Ethan until the situation deteriorates
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.
When investigators move in, they will begin by photographing the entire scene above ground – in reality a far larger area than previously thought - before moving into the labyrinthine facility below. It is believed Dykes had pipes running well beyond the bunker so that he could hear movements above ground. 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.’
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 yesterday 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. The FBI is reported to have used flash-bangs to create a diversion before going in, and the whole operation was over very quickly. An official said that ‘seconds make all the difference’ in these types of rescues. The CBS reporters also said that Special Agent Bomb Technicians continue to clear the scene and only after their work is done will Evidence Response Teams move into process the scene. Richardson said an independent review team is on its way from Washington to investigate.
Authorities also wouldn’t comment on the explosion heard at around 3 p.m. that presumably was part of the raid into the bunker. However, the blast apparently came from a ‘diversionary device,’ an FBI source confirmed to NBC News. FBI officers then went through a door at the top of the bunker. In the days since his shooting Mr. Poland’s family have felt certain that the driver would watch over Ethan until he was safely home As news of the resolution spread, cars passing by the site honked their horns in celebration. ‘The most important thing is we have a safe recovery of a child,’ said Colonel Hugh McCall, director of the Alabama Department of Public Safety.
Over the past days the media had abided by the security force’s request not to report details of the agents’ movements so as not to tip off Dykes – who reportedly had access to television and the Internet in his bunker. On Saturday the presence of FBI and hostage rescue teams was notably stepped up. Several vans transporting equipment from the nearby airport made their way up the dirt track to the left of Dykes’s plot. According to CNN the FBI had used U.S. military high-tech detection equipment similar to the technology used to discover homemade bombs in war zones. It was unclear if the equipment, which is not available to civilian law enforcement, had been used by the FBI.
One defense official said no members of the military were involved in the rescue. They would have been acting a technical advisers, the official said to CNN. Neighbors of Dykes had speculated to the media over the past week that the kidnapping was part of a plan to air certain grievances he had by gaining national prominence. ‘Based on our discussions he feels like he has a story that is important to him, although it’s very complex,’ said Sheriff Wally Olson of Dale County on Sunday. Among Dykes’s beliefs was that the government was harboring and hiding aliens that threatened to take America’s weapons. Several loud booms were heard just after 3 p.m. local time.
Neighbor Lyndsey White arrived on the scene carrying six-year-old daughter Auden, her nine-year-old daughter Alexa by her side. She told the reporters: ‘We live just beyond the trees. I heard a boom that rattled our windows and a knock-knock-knock like a popping. I called my dad and he said that’s gunfire.’ She added: ‘I’m just so glad the boy is safe. I can’t imagine what she’s been going through day after day, his mother, not able to put her baby to bed.’ As for Mr Dykes, she echoed the thoughts of many here saying, ‘I find it hard. I’m a spiritual person. I pray for his soul – something was obviously very wrong there.’ About 10 minutes after the second boom, an ambulance that had been parked near the bunker for the last few days was seen driving off with no sirens or lights on.
Some neighbors claimed this afternoon that they heard gunshots at about the same time as the booms, but those reports have not yet been confirmed. A law enforcement source said a stun or flash grenade was detonated as part of the operation to free the boy, but further details were not immediately available. The reports came just hours after security forces said they were prepared to let the standoff run. DMN has learned that Sykes had continued to demand ’4 minutes on all major networks’ to tell his story. The boy was reportedly taken to nearby Flowers Hospital, about six miles away, but is not believed to be injured. Ethan is going to be six years old on Wednesday.
In the days since Ethan’s abduction DMN has learned that his family have spent their days at Midland Retirement Center. They have spent their nights in different hotels, limping from day to day, waiting for the moment that finally came today. Dykes, a retired Alabama trucker, has been described by those who knew him in Midland City as being a violent and paranoid man. He thanked law enforcement agents for their efforts and explained that they had ‘breached the bunker, the child was safe and the abductor was killed.’ ‘I am thankful that the child who was abducted is now safe. I am so happy this little boy can now be reunited with his family and friends,’ said Governor Bentley. ‘We will all continue to pray for the little boy and his family as they recover from the trauma of the last several days. ‘She must have had a direct line to God because shortly after she left, they heard the news,’ Nighton said to Fox News.
The pastor of the church, Michael Senn, who has welcomed reporters since the standoff began, said he was relieved. So when I heard that he was OK, it was just like a thousand pounds lifted off of me,’ he said. Dykes, described by his neighbors as a paranoid survivalist, grabbed the boy from a school bus in Midland City, Alabama, just after 3:30 p.m. Central Time last Tuesday. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley issued a statement detailing his relief at the resolution of the hostage crisis this afternoon in Midland City. ‘At the same time, we also want to remember the family and friends of the bus driver – Charles Poland, Junior. ‘This man was a true hero who was willing to give up his life so others might live. We are all inspired by his courage and bravery.’ Melissa Nighton, city clerk in Midland City, said a woman had been praying in the town center Monday afternoon. Not long after, the mayor called with news that Dykes was dead and that the boy was safe.
And on Sunday, more than 500 people paid final tribute to the driver that was killed, 66-year-old Charles Albert Poland Jr., hailing him as a hero for protecting the other children on the bus. At that funeral, Latoshia Reeves supported her daughter, Kimberley, 12, at the funeral of Poland, who has been described as a hero for trying to stop Dykes abducting five-year-old Ethan. Today she reacted with delight at news of Ethan’s safe relief though expressed sadness that Mr Dykes had not survived. She said: ‘It’s just so sad – I’m glad that Ethan is safe and Kimberly is so happy he will be home for his birthday but Mr Dykes could have come out safe too.’
At the funeral service, the bus driver was described as ‘an angel who is watching over,’ the little boy saiid Dale County School Superintendent Donny Bynum – as he read three letters from students who had been driven by Poland. ‘You didn’t deserve to die but you died knowing you kept everyone safe,’ one child wrote. The FBI said that on Sunday the kidnapped boy had requested Cheez-Its and a red Hot Wheels car, both of which were delivered to the bunker the day before the successful raid. Mel Adams, a Midland City Council member who has known Dykes since they were ages 3 and 4, said Dykes is estranged from his family. Adams said he didn’t know what caused the falling-out, but that he knew Dykes “had told part of his family to go to hell.”
Midland City Mayor Virgil Skipper said Dykes’ sister is in a nursing home. Adams said that law enforcement officers had talked to Dykes’ family members and advised them not to speak with reporters, and that officers told his sister there was nothing she could do to help the child in the bunker. Government records and interviews with neighbors indicate that Dykes joined the Navy in Midland City, serving on active duty from 1964 to 1969. His record shows several awards, including the Vietnam Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal. Dykes was trained in aviation maintenance and at one point was based in Japan. It was unclear if he saw combat in Vietnam. Authorities said they were also delivering medicine and other comfort items, and that Dykes had been making the child as comfortable as possible.
At some point after his time in the Navy, Dykes lived in Florida, where he worked as a surveyor and a long-haul truck driver. It’s unclear how long he stayed there. He had some scrapes with the law in 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. Neighbors described Dykes as a man who once beat a dog to death with a lead pipe, threatened to shoot children for setting foot on his property, and patrolled his yard at night with a flashlight and a firearm.
His neighbor Michael Creel said Dykes had an adult daughter, but the two lost touch years ago. According to Creel, his property has a white trailer that Dykes said he bought from FEMA after it was used to house evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. The property also has a steel shipping container in which Dykes stored tools and supplies. Creel said he helped Dykes with supplies to build the bunker and has been in it twice, adding that Dykes wanted protection from hurricanes. “He said he lived in Florida and had hurricanes hit. He wanted someplace he could go down in and be safe,” Creel said. Authorities say the bunker is about 6 feet by 8 feet, and the only entrance is a trap door at the top. Such bunkers are not uncommon in rural Alabama because of the threat of tornadoes.