Child freed, kidnapper shot dead as Alabama bunker drama ends

Child freed, kidnapper shot dead as Alabama bunker drama ends

A five-year-old American boy held hostage in an underground Alabama bunker for almost a week was rescued on Monday in a raid that left the kidnapper dead, authorities said.

The boy, who has been identified only as Ethan, was rushed to safety and is "doing fine," a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent told reporters in Midland City, Alabama.

Agents said they feared the boy was in "imminent danger" after they saw the kidnapper, retired trucker Jimmy Lee Dykes, holding a gun.

Negotiations with the gunman deteriorated, according to FBI Special Agent Stephen Richardson.

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

Agents were ordered to storm the bunker at 3:12pm local time, he said.

"The subject is deceased," Richardson said of Dykes. The agent declined at a brief news conference to provide more details on the kidnapper's death.

"We were certainly concerned for the safety of the child," he explained.

The boy was reunited with his mother at a hospital in nearby Dothan, Alabama.

"He's laughing, joking, playing, eating - the things that you would expect a normal five- to six-year-old young man to do. He's very brave. He's very lucky. "The success story is that Ethan is with his mother right now," Richardson added.

Residents described hearing an explosion and shots.

"I heard a big boom and then ... I believe I heard rifle shots," Bryon Martin, who owns a house near the bunker, told CNN. It was a loud noise that "made me jump off the ground," he said.

Police have said Dykes, 65, boarded a school bus last Tuesday and when driver Charles Albert Poland tried to block him, shot the man dead. He then snatched Ethan and held him in a bunker on his property for six days as police tried to negotiate his release.

"It got really tough to negotiate with him," Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson told reporters after the rescue.

Dykes - a US Navy veteran who worked in aircraft maintenance in the 1960s - had been known to stay in his underground bunker for up to eight days, neighbors, who have evacuated the area, told ABC News earlier.

They also told US media he had dramatic behavioral swings and paranoid-sounding anti-government views.

The slain bus driver, Charles Poland, 66, was described as a quiet man who enjoyed a simple life with his wife, Jan.

People who knew him said it was hard for Poland to discipline children on his bus when they misbehaved, an Alabama newspaper, the Dothan Eagle, reported.

"It says in the Bible the meek will inherit the earth," Poland's brother-in-law, Melvin Skipper, was quoted as saying. "He was the meekest man I knew."