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Boy rescued in Alabama standoff is 'laughing, joking, playing' with family at hospital

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Ethan, the 5-year-old boy held hostage in a nearly week-long standoff in Alabama is in good spirits and apparently unharmed. (ABC) Ethan, the 5-year-old boy held hostage in a nearly week-long standoff in Alabama is in good spirits and apparently unharmed. (ABC)
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Courtesy ABC News

The 5-year-old boy held hostage in a nearly week-long standoff in Alabama is in good spirits and apparently unharmed after being reunited with his family at a hospital, according to his family and law enforcement officials.

The boy, identified only as Ethan, was rescued by the FBI Monday afternoon after they rushed the underground bunker where suspect Jimmy Lee Dykes, 65, was holding him. Dykes was killed in the raid and the boy was taken away from the bunker in an ambulance.

Officials have not yet provided any further details on the raid, citing the ongoing investigation.

"I've been to the hospital," FBI Special Agent Steve Richardson told reporters Monday night. "I visited with Ethan. He is doing fine. 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, and the success story is that he's out safe and doing great."

Ethan is expected to be released from the hospital later today and head home where he will be greeted by birthday cards from his friends at school. Ethan will celebrate his 6th birthday Wednesday.

Officials were able to insert a high-tech camera into the 6-by-8-foot bunker to monitor Dykes' movements, and they became increasingly concerned that he might act out, a law enforcement source with direct knowledge told ABC News Monday. FBI special agents were positioned near the entrance of the bunker and used an explosive charge to gain access and neutralize Dykes.

"Within the past 24 hours, negotiations deteriorated and Mr. Dykes was observed holding a gun," the FBI's Richardson said. "At this point, the FBI agents, fearing the child was in imminent danger, entered the bunker and rescued the child."

Richardson said it "got tough to negotiate and communicate" with Dykes, but declined to give any specifics.

After the raid was complete, FBI bomb technicians checked the property for improvised explosive devices, the FBI said in a written statement Monday afternoon.

The FBI had created a mock bunker near the site and had been using it to train agents for different scenarios to get Ethan out, sources told ABC News.

Former FBI special agent and ABC News consultant Brad Garrett said rescue operators in this case had a delicate balance.

"You have to take into consideration if you're going to go in that room and go after Mr. Dykes, you have to be extremely careful because any sort of device you might use against him, could obviously harm Ethan because he's right there," he said.

Still, Monday's raid was not the ending police had sought as they spent days negotiating with the decorated Vietnam veteran through a ventilation shaft. The plastic PVC pipe was also used to send the child comfort items, including a red Hot Wheels car, coloring books, cheese crackers, potato chips and medicine.

State Sen. Harri Anne Smith said Ethan's mother asked police a few days ago not to kill Dykes.

"She put her hand on the officer's heart and said, 'Sir, don't hurt him. He's sick,'" Smith said Monday.

Taylor Hodges, pastor of the Midland City Baptist Church, said, "Many people here don't keep their doors locked. Things are going to change, especially for our school system."

The outcome of the situation drew praise from the White House.

"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," according to a statement from a White House official late Monday. "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."

Dykes allegedly shot and killed a school bus driver, Albert Poland Jr., 66, last Tuesday and threatened to kill all the children on the bus before taking the boy, one of the students on the bus said Monday.

"He said he was going to kill us, going to kill us all," Tarrica Singletary, 14, told ABC News.

Dykes had been holed up in his underground bunker near Midland City, Ala., with the abducted boy for a week as police tried to negotiate with him through the PVC pipe. Police were careful not to anger Dykes, who was believed to be watching news reports from inside the bunker, and even thanked him at one point.

Dykes lived in Florida until two years ago, The Associated Press reported, and has an adult daughter, but the two lost touch years ago, neighbor Michael Creel said. When he returned to Alabama, neighbors say he once beat a dog with a lead pipe and had threatened to shoot children who set foot on his property.

ABC News' Mary Bruce and Michael S. James contributed to this report.

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