Grandma worries about trauma for hostaged boy

Ethan, the five-year-old kidnapped and held in a bunker for several days, in a photo provided to CBS News by his family.
CBS News/Personal Photo

MIDLAND CITY, Ala. The grandmother of a 5-year-old held hostage for a week in an underground bunker said Tuesday the boy is OK physically, but she fears the ordeal could stay with him the rest of his life.

Betty Jean Ransbottom told The Associated Press that 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.

Ransbottom said the boy, identified by parents to CBS "Evening News" as Ethan, seemed fine in the hospital on Monday after his rescue. The family, however, isn't sure yet how he is doing mentally.

She 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.

Debra Cook, Ransbottom's sister, said the family was grateful for the community's prayers and support. Fliers around town asked people to pray for the boy, and others gathered at nightly vigils to pray for his safe return.

"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.

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.

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, likely at the high school football field, 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.

After FBI agents determined that talks with an increasingly agitated Dykes were breaking down, they stormed the shelter Monday afternoon and freed the kindergartner. The 65-year-old armed captor 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.

CBS News correspondent John Miller reported the FBI Hostage Rescue team used a flash-bang to create a diversion before going in the bunker to save Ethan, and the whole operation was over very quickly. An official stressed that "seconds make all the difference" in these types of rescues.

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.

It was not immediately clear how authorities determined the man had a gun.

The boy was reunited with his mother and taken to a hospital to be checked out. Officials have said he has Asperger's syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The rescue capped a hostage drama that disrupted the lives of many in a tranquil town of 2,400 people set amid peanut farms and cotton fields some 100 miles southeast of the state capital of Montgomery.

While a town anxiously waited for days, authorities had been speaking with Dykes though a plastic pipe that led into the bunker. The shelter was about 4 feet underground, with about 50 square feet of floor space, built like the tornado shelters frequently found in the South.

Authorities sent food, medicine and other items into the bunker, which apparently had running water, heat and cable television but no toilet.

Dykes, a decorated Vietnam-era veteran, was described by neighbors as a loner and a nuisance who would often go on anti-government rants.

Ronda Wilbur, a neighbor of Dykes who said the man beat her dog to death last year with a pipe, expressed relief like other neighbors who described the suspect as volatile and threatening.

"The nightmare is over," Wilbur said.