Trauma not a given following kidnapping, says expert
Kidnapping suspect Jimmy Lee Dykes (left) was killed in an FBI operation to rescue a 5-year-old named Ethan (right) from a rural Alabama bunker. / CBS News/AP
A six-day hostage ordeal in Alabama has finally ended, following the Monday rescue of a 5-year-old boy named Ethan who had been taken from his school bus at gunpoint by 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes.
An FBI Hostage Rescue team breached the underground bunker where Dykes had held the boy captive after the gunman became increasingly unstable and officials said they feared for the boy's safety.
How did the Ala. hostage standoff end?
Throughout the ordeal, authorities had been communicating with Dykes and sent food, toys, medication for the boy and other items into the 50-square-foot bunker, which apparently had running water, heat and cable television but no toilet. Officials have said the child has Asperger's syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Following the rescue, the boy was reunited with his mother and taken to a hospital to be checked out.
Special Agent Steve Richardson of the FBI's office in Mobile, Ala., told the Associated Press that he saw the child at the hospital and he was laughing, joking, eating and "doing the things you'd expect a normal 5- or 6-year-old to do."
While it's impossible to know for sure what went on inside the bunker, many have wondered whether the boy will face long-term trauma over the ordeal.
Kidnapper killed after 7-day Ala. hostage standoff
That may depend on what the child's feelings were throughout the kidnapping, according to Dr. Victor Fornari, director of the division of child/adolescent psychiatry at North Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, N.Y.
Fornari, who has no knowledge or involvement in the particulars of Ethan's case, tells CBSNews.com that if the child was afraid he was going to die for a sustained period of time, it could have a profound impact on the his development. However, if the child felt safe, was in a good emotional state and was rescued safely, he may feel fine once reunited with his family.
- Kids resilient when coping with trauma, experts say
- Alabama hostage: 5-year-old boy "happy to be home," says family member
- Alabama Standoff Update: Boy, 5, safe, kidnapper dead, in raid on Ala. bunker, FBI says
"Just having been kidnapped for a week doesn't necessarily determine the outcome," explains Fornari.
An anecdotal example he gave is of two sisters who are on a plane that appears to be crashing. One sister was asleep throughout the frightening 20-minute descent, while the other was awake the whole time and feared she was going to die. The girl who was asleep the whole time wakes up fine and worrying what the fuss was about, while the one who was awake the whole time experiences psychic trauma and flashbacks.
Following December's tragedy in Newtown, Conn., when elementary school students faced an unimaginable situation, one expert said "kids do tend to be highly resilient," in the face of trauma. Kids may cope by pulling out action figures or stuffed animals, possibly re-enacting what they witnessed.
"That's the way they gain mastery over a situation that's overwhelming," Dr. Matthew Biel, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, explained at the time.Following a traumatic experience like a kidnapping, a psychologist or psychiatrist may not have to debrief a child. However, a doctor might give the parents some guidance. Otherwise, love and support from a family following a traumatic event could go a long way, according to Fornari.
But if the child experiences interference with normal functioning, then a professional consultation might be warranted, he adds.
"Provided [the child] has been reunited with her family and gets the proper care, hopefully [he'll] do fine," says Fornari. "So that's something the family will have to monitor."
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