The 5-year-old held hostage in a nearly week-long standoff in Alabama is cheerfully watching Spongebob and posting sticky notes on everyone around him at the hospital as organizers plan a birthday party for him so big it may take place at a high school football stadium.
The boy, identified only as Ethan, is apparently unharmed but is at the hospital for numerous evaluations, authorities said today.
Ethan was rescued by the FBI Monday after they rushed the underground bunker where suspect Jimmy Lee Dykes, 65, was holding him. Dykes was killed in the raid and the boy was taken away from the bunker in an ambulance.
Ethan's thrilled relatives told "Good Morning America" today that he seemed "normal as a child could be" after what he went through and has been happily playing with his toy dinosaur.
"He's happy to be home," Ethan's great uncle Berlin Enfinger told "GMA." "He's very excited and he looks good."
"For the first time in almost a week, I woke up this morning to the most beautiful sight...my sweet boy. I can't describe how incredible it is to hold him again," Ethan's' mother wrote in a statement released by the FBI today.
Ethan is "running around the hospital room, putting sticky notes on everyone that was in there, eating a turkey sandwich and watching Spongebob," Dale County Schools Superintendent Donny Bynum said at a news conference today.
Ethan is expected to be released from the hospital later today and head home where he will be greeted by birthday cards from his friends at school. Ethan will celebrate his 6th birthday Wednesday.
When asked about a birthday party for Ethan, Bynum said, "We are still in the planning stages. Our time frame is that we are waiting for Ethan, waiting on that process, but we are going to have it at a school facility, most likely the football stadium at Dale County High School."
He said many "tears of celebration" were shed Monday night when Ethan was reunited with his family.
"If I could, I would do cartwheels all the way down the road," Ethan's aunt Debra Cook told "GMA." "I was ecstatic. Everything just seemed like it was so much clearer. You know, we had all been walking around in a fog and everyone was just excited. There's no words to put how we felt and how relieved we were."
Cook said that Ethan has not yet told them anything about what happened in the bunker and they know very little about Dykes.
What the family does know is that they are overjoyed to have their "little buddy" back.
"He's a special child, 90 miles per hour all the time," Cook said. "[He's] a very, very loving child. When he walks in the room, he just lights it up."
Dykes allegedly shot and killed bus driver Albert Poland Jr., 66, before taking Ethan hostage.
Authorities said today they have not yet spoken to Poland's family since Ethan's rescue, but were planning on visiting them today.
"We know that Ms. Poland is aware and she is celebrating today with us and we did talk to Mr. Poland's son who lives in Hickory, North Carolina," Bynum said. "He called last night and made the comment, 'My dad's last child is home.' So it goes to show what kind of people they are."
A new school bus and new driver were back today on the route where Poland was killed and Ethan was kidnapped.
Officials have remained tight-lipped about the raid, citing the ongoing investigation.
Ethan's Family Feels Like Doing Cartwheels
"I've been to the hospital," FBI Special Agent Steve Richardson told reporters Monday night. "I visited with Ethan. He is doing fine. He's laughing, joking, playing, eating, the things that you would expect a normal 5- to 6-year-old young man to do. He's very brave, he's very lucky, and the success story is that he's out safe and doing great."
Officials were able to insert a high-tech camera into the 6-by-8-foot bunker to monitor Dykes' movements, and they became increasingly concerned that he might act out, a law enforcement source with direct knowledge told ABC News Monday. FBI special agents were positioned near the entrance of the bunker and used two explosions to gain entry at the door and neutralize Dykes.
"Within the past 24 hours, negotiations deteriorated and Mr. Dykes was observed holding a gun," the FBI's Richardson said. "At this point, the FBI agents, fearing the child was in imminent danger, entered the bunker and rescued the child."
Richardson said it "got tough to negotiate and communicate" with Dykes, but declined to give any specifics.
After the raid was complete, FBI bomb technicians checked the property for improvised explosive devices, the FBI said in a written statement Monday afternoon.
The FBI had created a mock bunker near the site and had been using it to train agents for different scenarios to get Ethan out, sources told ABC News.
Former FBI special agent and ABC News consultant Brad Garrett said rescue operators in this case had a delicate balance.
"You have to take into consideration if you're going to go in that room and go after Mr. Dykes, you have to be extremely careful because any sort of device you might use against him, could obviously harm Ethan because he's right there," he said.
Still, Monday's raid was not the ending police had sought as they spent days negotiating with the decorated Vietnam veteran through a ventilation shaft. The plastic PVC pipe was also used to send the child comfort items, including a red Hot Wheels car, coloring books, cheese crackers, potato chips and medicine.
State Sen. Harri Anne Smith said Ethan's mother asked police a few days ago not to kill Dykes.
"She put her hand on the officer's heart and said, 'Sir, don't hurt him. He's sick,'" Smith said Monday.
Taylor Hodges, pastor of the Midland City Baptist Church, said, "Many people here don't keep their doors locked. Things are going to change, especially for our school system."
The outcome of the situation drew praise from the White House.
"This evening, the president called FBI Director Robert Mueller to compliment him for the role federal law enforcement officers played in resolving the hostage situation in Alabama today," according to a statement from a White House official late Monday. "The president praised the exceptional coordination between state, local, and federal partners, and thanked all the law enforcement officials involved during the nearly week-long ordeal for their roles in the successful rescue of the child."
Dykes allegedly shot and killed a school bus driver, Albert Poland Jr., 66, last Tuesday and threatened to kill all the children on the bus before taking the boy, one of the students on the bus said Monday.
"He said he was going to kill us, going to kill us all," Tarrica Singletary, 14, told ABC News.
Dykes had been holed up in his underground bunker near Midland City, Ala., with the abducted boy for a week as police tried to negotiate with him through the PVC pipe. Police were careful not to anger Dykes, who was believed to be watching news reports from inside the bunker, and even thanked him at one point.
Dykes lived in Florida until two years ago, The Associated Press reported, and has an adult daughter, but the two lost touch years ago, neighbor Michael Creel said. When he returned to Alabama, neighbors say he once beat a dog with a lead pipe and had threatened to shoot children who set foot on his property.
ABC News' Mary Bruce and Michael S. James contributed to this report.Also Read