MIDLAND CITY, Alabama (CNN) — At least Ethan is safe. That is the sentiment many were expressing in Midland City, Alabama, and beyond. But what comes next for this little boy about to turn six could be complicated.
How does a five-year-old heal from this ordeal? How does a youngster go on after witnessing his bus driver shot to death, after being dragged to an underground bunker by a gun-toting stranger? How will he deal with what he experienced the six days he languished in that hole and what he saw during the explosive rescue Monday that left his captor dead?
“It’s very hard to tell how he’s going to do,” said Louis Krouse, a psychiatrist at Chicago’s Rush Medical Center. “On the one hand, he might get right back to his routine and do absolutely fine. But on the other hand, the anxieties, the trauma, what we call an acute stress disorder even post traumatic stress symptoms can occur.”
Just as it has been for most of this saga, authorities, at a late night news conference Monday, released few details the boy’s rescue.
Ethan was taken to a hospital, said FBI Special Agent in Charge Steve Richardson, where he was in a private area with heavy security.
“He is doing fine,” Richardson said, adding that he visited the boy. “He’s laughing, joking, playing, eating.”
Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson added no new details about Ethan’s rescue but thanked the contingent of federal and state law enforcement that helped.
When asked if the boy saw his abductor, 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes, killed during the rescue operation, Olson replied “He’s a very special child. He’s been through a lot, he’s endured a lot.”
Last Tuesday, police said, Dykes boarded a Dale County school bus and demanded the driver hand over two children.
The driver, Charles Albert Poland Jr., refused, blocking access to the bus’s narrow aisle as at least 21 children escaped out of the back emergency door, authorities said.
The gunman killed Poland, then grabbed the kindergartner before barricading himself and the boy inside a nearby bunker he had built on his southeast Alabama land. In the ensuing days, officials said little about what was going on in the bunker or in their strategy, or what — if anything — Dykes wanted.
It became very difficult to deal with or even communicate with Dykes over the past day, Olson said. Also Dykes was observed holding a gun.
Believing the child to be in imminent danger, an FBI team entered the bunker at 3:12 p.m. CT (4:12 p.m. ET) and rescued the boy.
One neighbor said he was outside when he was startled by the sound of an explosion.
“I heard a big boom and then … I believe I heard rifle shots,” said Bryon Martin, who owns a home near the bunker where the boy had been held since Tuesday.
It was a loud noise that “made me jump off the ground,” he said.
Authorities wouldn’t say whether the blast was set off as a diversionary tactic or whether Dykes had planted explosives around the bunker.
At one point Monday, Olson told reporters, “Based on our discussions with Mr. Dykes, he feels like he has a story that’s important to him, although it’s very complex.”
The sheriff did not elaborate.
Ethan suffers from Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit disorder, state Rep. Steve Clouse said during the week. This could affect the boy as he tries to deal with the what he experienced, said Krouse.
“A typical 5-year-old child would find this frightening. But with a child with Asperger’s, which is a form of autism,” Krouse said, “we have to make sure that we get him back to his normal routines and that if the anxiety levels are overwhelming, to treat those.”
Someone who knows all too well what Ethan may go through is Katie Beers, who as a 10-year-old was held underground in a concrete bunker for two weeks by a New York man.
“I am ecstatic that Ethan has been retrieved safe and sound,” said Beers, who recently released a book about her abduction. “As for my ordeal, I just keep thinking about the effects of it being deprived sunlight, nutritious food and human contact. And how much I wanted to have a nutritious meal, see my family.”
Beers says she still feels the affects of her kidnapping even though she is 30 now and has her own children.
“The major issue that I have is control issues with my kids and finances,” she said. “I don’t like my kids being out of my sight for more than two seconds. And I think that that might get worse as they get older.”
For now, those who have seen Ethan say he was doing well and was in good spirits.
He was scheduled to stay overnight at the hospital, the boy’s uncle told a crowd gathered at a prayer vigil Monday night.
CNN’s Victor Blackwell and Martin Savidge reported from Midland City; Barbara Starr contributed from Washington; Michael Pearson and Steve Almasy reported and wrote from Atlanta; and CNN’s Vivian Kuo and Larry Shaughnessy also contributed to this report.
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By Lateef Mungin and Martin Savidge CNN