By Verna Gates
MIDLAND CITY, Ala., Feb 5 (Reuters) - Authorities used a hidden camera to watch a man holding a boy hostage in an underground bunker in rural Alabama and moved in to rescue the child after the suspect was seen holding a gun and looking agitated, according to news reports on Tuesday.
The nearly week-long standoff with Jimmy Lee Dykes, 65, began after he gunned down a school bus driver and snatched the boy. It ended on Monday with Dykes' death and the safe recovery of the kindergarten student, identified only as Ethan.
The boy, who turns 6 on Wednesday, was taken to a hospital for treatment, but appeared physically unharmed, law enforcement officials said.
"He's laughing, joking, playing, eating," said FBI Special Agent Steve Richardson, who had visited with the child.
Authorities released few details about their extended negotiations with Dykes or their decision to storm the homemade bunker on his property near Midland City, in southeastern Alabama. They also declined to say how Dykes died.
At a news conference on Monday, Richardson said talks had deteriorated in the 24 hours ahead of the rescue, and Dykes was seen holding a gun.
NPR reported that officials monitored Dykes with a camera they had managed to get into the underground shelter. Dykes initially attended to the boy's needs and seemed to sleep peacefully, but later appeared agitated and ignored the child, sources told NPR, which cited unnamed law enforcement officials.
To prepare for the rescue, FBI agents trained using a mock bunker officials had created near the site, according to ABC News, citing unnamed sources.
The end of the hostage situation brought a collective sigh of relief in the southeast corner of Alabama where it played out. Several local schools reopened on Tuesday for the first time since the shooting a week ago.
"If I could, I would do cartwheels all the way down the road," Debra Cook, identified as the boy's great aunt, said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "I was just ecstatic. Everything just seemed like it was so much clearer. You know, we had all been walking around in a fog, and everybody was excited. There's no words to put how we felt and how relieved we were."
The drama captured national attention amid heightened U.S. concerns about gun violence and school safety after the December shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school.
Dykes, a retired trucker who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War era, had been due to appear in court last Wednesday to face a menacing charge involving one of his neighbors.
On the eve of his trial before a judge, Dykes boarded a school bus carrying more than 20 children home and demanded that the driver let a student off the bus, according to authorities.
When the driver, Charles Albert Poland, 66, refused, Dykes shot him four times with a 9 mm handgun, killing Poland, and fled with the boy, officials said.
"It just shows you how close it can come," said one of Dykes' neighbors, 42-year-old Angie Adams, who said she now plans one day to home-school her 2-year-old daughter. (Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Leslie Adler)