Law enforcement officials close to the investigation are revealing to NBC News that federal agents built their own mock bunker near the site of an Alabama child hostage standoff so they could train for the operation they ultimately utilized to rescue a 5-year-old.
The bunker details comes a day after Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson and Steve Richardson, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Mobile, Alabama office, held a news conference to answer what questions they could regarding the events of Monday's standoff resolution.
Neither Olson nor Richardson would discuss specifics regarding tactics or methods used in the operation. Echoing the ground team's response, NBC's source said they won't release any details about how the secret camera was placed in the bunker because it might be used for future responses of the same nature.
Agent Richardson said the crime scene is large and could take days to process. An independent review team from Washington, D.C. will soon arrive to assess the scene. FBI Bomb Technicians continue working to clear the scene around the bunker for any "potential explosives". An Evidence Response Team is set to process the crime scene once it has been deemed safe.
There's also no clear motive established for Dykes' actions. "There are a variety of events that may have led to this," NBC's source said. "But they are very complex."
It's also not not clear now Dykes died, though there are three possibilities: A gunshot wound from federal agents, a self-inflicted gunshot wound or as the result of a flashbang grenade. An autopsy will have to be performed to make a final determination.
Pushing aside questions of the operation, Agent Richardson said, "The success story is Ethan is safe."
The child, who has become known to a nation on a first name basis as simply "Ethan", is doing the things most 5 or 6-year-old boys do, Agent Richardson said after a brief visit with the child at an area hospital Monday night. "He's laughing, joking and eating," Richardson explained, calling him "very brave and very lucky."
The resolution in this case came seven days after the child hostage standoff started, a stretch of time in which few developments trickled out the southeast Alabama town of Midland City.
The boy was taken to an area hospital, but the kidnapper, Jimmy Lee Dykes, was killed as agents raided the underground bunker. It wasn't immediately known if Dykes took his own life or if agents killed him.
Agent Richardson told media about an hour after the standoff ended that, while negotiations with Dykes remained constant over the last week, during the last 24 hours talks "deteriorated" and Dykes was seen holding a gun. It wasn't known exactly how authorities were able to tell that Dykes was holding a weapon, but they chose to move in at that point.
Agent Richardson said, fearing for the child's immediate safety, FBI agents breached the door to the bunker and removed the child. The boy was rushed from the bunker and placed in a nearby waiting ambulance.
The scene, which was kept out of the view of the media, showed visible signs of change around 3 p.m. when witnesses heard a loud explosion and gunfire. An ambulance was seen slowly leaving the scene a short time later but without emergency lights or sirens activated.
The ambulance traveled to nearby Flowers Hospital in Dothan where authorities later confirmed the child was transported. Law enforcement began guarding the area around the emergency room and all questions to the hospital were deferred to the FBI.
The crisis started at 3:40 p.m. on Tuesday, January 29 when Dykes is alleged to have stepped on board a Dale County school bus. The driver of the bus, Charles Poland, Jr., was fatally shot and the child was taken.
Authorities attempted for days to convince Dykes to release the child from a nearby underground bunker that he built by hand on his property. Dykes was not believed to have physically harmed the child, who was given medicine, toys, coloring books and comfort foods via a PVC pipe that led into the bunker.
HOSTAGE'S SIXTH BIRTHDAY
The child hostage, identified only as "Ethan", will turn 6-years-old this week, and everyone is being asked to send him a birthday card. Those cards can be mailed to:
NFPD c/o Lt. McDaniel
400 Headquarters Street
Napier Field, AL. 36303
You can also drop off cards at the Napier Field town hall. Be sure to sign the card with your name, town and state if you are planning to send one.
Meanwhile, authorities are beginning to react to the end of the crisis, which has gripped the small town of about 2,300 about 2 hours from the state's capital in Montgomery for a week.
WHITE HOUSE REACTS
This evening, the President called FBI Director Robert Mueller to compliment him for the role federal law enforcement officers played in resolving the hostage situation in Alabama today. The President praised the exceptional coordination between state, local, and federal partners, and thanked all the law enforcement officials involved during the nearly week long ordeal for their roles in the successful rescue of the child.
ALABAMA GOVERNOR REACTS
"I want to thank the law enforcement, first responders and all additional personnel who worked tireless hours to bring this situation to a resolution. They performed heroic efforts, and they should be praised for how they handled themselves in a professional manner.
"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. We will all continue to pray for the little boy and his family as they recover from the trauma of the last several days.
"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.
"I ask everyone across the state – and the nation – to continue to lift up these families and the entire Midland City community in your prayers."
STATE REPRESENTATIVE HARRI ANNE SMITH REACTS
State Representative Harri Anne Smith said she was able to give the mother of the child hostage a hug before getting the call that something was happening. "I think we're bonded for life," she said of her relationship with the boy's mom.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE MARTHA ROBY REACTS
"I thank God that Ethan is safe and that this terrible situation is finally over," Rep. Roby said. "From first learning of the shooting and kidnapping while in the Wiregrass last week, to talking with the boy's mother just this weekend, my family and I have been praying for Ethan's safe return home. As a mother of two young children, it is especially horrifying to imagine what fear Ethan and his family have been living in this past week.
"While we rejoice over the child's safety, let's also remember and honor the heroism of Charles Poland Jr., the bus driver who bravely stood between this attacker and the children in his care. Mr. Poland's courage may have cost him his life, but it probably saved the lives of many others. We also thank the many law enforcement officers – local, state and federal – who have tirelessly worked around the clock for almost a week to rescue this little boy.
"Senseless doesn't begin to describe this individual's actions. I pray that the terror he sought to inflict will be ceaselessly overcome by the outpouring of love, hope and kindness we've continued to see from Dale County, Alabama and around the world."
STATE SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT DR. TOMMY BICE REACTS
"We are elated that the standoff is over and anticipating positive news on Ethan's status."
TRANSPORATION PROGRAM COORDINATOR JOE LIGHTSEY REACTS
"Chuck Poland was a hero because he protected the children on his school bus. We remain saddened by his loss. But, with the return of little Ethan to his mom, all the children on bus 04-02 are safe and sound. Our thanks go out to the spectacular law enforcement officers and support staff, school staff, community members and others, who worked together to make it happen."
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