MIDLAND CITY, Alabama (AP) — The grandmother of a 5-year-old held hostage for a week in an underground bunker in rural Alabama said Tuesday the boy is fine physically, but she fears the ordeal could stay with him the rest of his life.
Betty Jean Ransbottom told The Associated Press the boy, who turns 6 Wednesday, seemed fine in the hospital on Monday after his rescue, but the family isn't sure yet how he is doing mentally.
The boy was abducted from a school bus last week after 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes shot the driver and took the child back to a bunker on his property. Authorities raided the shelter after determining Dykes had a gun, saying he appeared to be increasingly agitated and that negotiations had deteriorated.
Dykes was killed by law enforcement agents, an official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the official wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.
Neighbors had described Dykes as a nuisance 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. A Vietnam War veteran, Dykes had some scrapes with the law in Florida, one involving a weapon and another marijuana.
Ransbottom said an FBI agent stayed with the family the entire time the boy was being held hostage, but officials are not giving the family much information because of the ongoing investigation. They learned of his rescue when an FBI agent at the scene called the agent staying with the family.
Ransbottom said she cried herself to sleep every night while the boy was being held hostage, and that she didn't sleep much while she awaited news.
"It was horrible. I never went through anything so horrible," she said.
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."
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.
On Tuesday, FBI bomb technicians were to continue scouring the property for any explosive devices as officials prepared to collect evidence and more thoroughly study the site, said FBI special agent Jason Pack.
Debra Cook, Ransbottom's sister, said the family was grateful for the community's prayers for the safe return of the boy, whom law enforcement officials have identified by his first name, Ethan.
"He has gone through a terrible ordeal, and I don't know if he will ever get over it," Cook told the AP. "I just want him to be all right."
Earlier Tuesday, Cook had told ABC's "Good Morning America" that the boy was happy and playing with toys, including a dinosaur.
Officials said there was no indication that Dykes had harmed the boy. State Sen. Harri Anne Smith, who bonded with the boy's mother during the ordeal, said the mother was encouraged the day the boy was abducted because Dykes asked officers to bring fried chicken — Ethan's favorite food.
"That was good news for her that Mr. Dykes was being kind to him," Smith said.
The boy was reunited with his mother after the raid and taken to a hospital to be checked out. Officials have said he has Asperger's syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The boy gave his mother a big hug at the hospital, where officers gave the boy a teddy bear, Olson said.
Dale County Coroner Woodrow Hilboldt said Tuesday that officials had not yet removed Dykes' body from the underground shelter. Hilboldt said he does not know how Dykes died because he has not yet examined the body. Hilboldt said the body will be taken to Montgomery for an autopsy, though he did not know exactly when that may happen.
Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson said Dykes was armed when officers entered the bunker. He added the boy was threatened, but declined to elaborate.
School officials said at a news conference Tuesday that they planned to have a party to celebrate the boy's birthday, which is Wednesday, though they had not yet set a date for the party. The celebration would also honor the memory of Charles Albert Poland Jr., the bus driver credited as a hero for his actions to keep nearly two dozen other children on the bus safe.
Associated Press writers Tamara Lush in Midland City and Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.