As a beaming 6-year-old Ethan said "cheese" for photos and played with toy cars at his birthday party, there were no immediate signs of the turmoil the young boy had endured just days earlier.
The boy, identified only as Ethan, was held hostage in a nearly week-long standoff in Alabama. He was physically unharmed after Jimmy Lee Dykes kidnapped him from a school bus and held him hostage in a booby-trapped underground bunker.
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Ethan was rescued by the FBI Monday after they rushed the bunker where Dykes, 65, was holding him. Dykes was killed in the raid.
On Wednesday, Ethan celebrated his sixth birthday at a local church with abundant hugs from his family and friends as well as from the SWAT team, FBI agents and hostage negotiators who had rescued him.
"Welcome home Ethan" signs hung on the walls of the church for the homecoming celebration.
In his first interview, Ethan's adult brother Camren Kirkland described to ABC News the text messages the family would get from the hostage negotiators.
"We did know when, at times, he was asleep and that was normally around nine o'clock at night," Kirkland said.
He said the messages kept the family going throughout the ordeal.
"That was actually a lot of comfort," he said. "I could actually go lay my head down."
Kirkland said he never left his mother's side and the whole family was present when they got the call that Ethan had been rescued.
"The said, 'We have Ethan,'" Kirkland said, recalling the moment they found out Ethan had been saved.
The FBI special agent whose call it was to send the team into the bunker revealed to ABC News that Dykes left behind writings and that while in the bunker with Ethan, he'd become agitated and brag about his plan.
"At the end of the day, the responsibility is mine," he said. "I thought the child was going to die."
Supporting Ethan's family through the ordeal has been Shelly Linderman of Angel House, a victim advocate organization.
Dykes 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.
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.
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