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Investigators: Explosives found in hostage bunker; kidnapper shot first

FBI

A tent covers the bunker where where a 5-year-old child was rescued by law enforcement after being held for nearly a week. FBI agents placed the blue tent over the bunker to protect evidence below.

Federal investigators late Tuesday revealed that they have found explosives in the bunker where a 5-year-old Alabama boy was held hostage for nearly a week -- and that the kidnapper was killed only after opening fire first himself.

According to a law enforcement source close to the investigation, two explosives -- one inside the bunker and one in the ventilation pipe -- were found at the scene.

The source said four members of the rescue team approached the bunker's hatch Monday, where the captor, 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes, was expecting a delivery.

He had received food and other items intended for the boy in previous days. This time, however, the team opened the hatch and dropped a "distractionary device" -- more commonly known as a flashbang.

Dykes was disoriented, but managed to fire off one shot.

The rescue team fired back -- shooting Dykes dead -- and saved the boy.

A law enforcement source close to the investigation confirmed to NBC News on Tuesday that federal agents had practiced their intricate rescue plans not far from where the kidnapper, Dykes, held the little boy.

Before storming the underground shelter where Dykes held the boy on Monday, the agents built a mock bunker nearby where they prepared over the prior six days, according to a law enforcement official close to the investigation.

FBI

FBI agents and Dale County negotiators used this pipe to communicate with Jimmy Dykes.

Police had been in regular contact with Dykes since he took the young boy, identified only as Ethan, into the homemade bunker last Tuesday. Authorities passed medicine and toys including a red Hot Wheels car to the boy, who is said to have Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and talked to Dykes through a PVC pipe that ran from the bunker into the yard.

Dykes had been reported to have electric heaters and blankets in his bunker, as well as electricity. But hope for a peaceful end to the standoff came to an end when negotiators began to fear that Dykes might pose an immediate threat to the young boy.

“Within the past 24 hours, negotiations deteriorated and Mr. Dykes was observed holding a gun,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen E. Richardson said at a press conference after the standoff ended. “At this point, FBI agents, fearing the child was in imminent danger, entered the bunker and rescued the child.”

During a news conference with Alabama school officials, Donny Bynum, superintendent of Dale County Schools, says, "We have a long way to go. We have a healing process that we as a community must go through.'

Law enforcement officials have said they even managed to sneak a camera into the roughly 8 feet by 6 feet bunker where Dykes holed up, but have declined to say how.

“It’s a technique we may want to use again, so we’re not being specific,” an official told NBC News.

The final rush to bring Ethan to safety began suddenly on Monday afternoon.

Neighbor Byron Martin heard a boom that “made me jump off the ground.” Local paper the Dothan Eagle reported two loud blasts after 3 p.m. 

It seems the bang was the first – and most audible – sign to people in the area that Ethan’s ordeal was close to an end. The flashbang explosive gave the FBI time to breach the bunker through a door at the top at 3:12 p.m. The boy emerged unharmed, according to officials.

The source said that law enforcement officials were still searching Dykes’ 1.5 acre property in the rural Alabama community for explosives on Tuesday afternoon. Neighbors had described Dykes in the immediate aftermath of the kidnapping as a paranoid Navy veteran who had beaten at least one neighborhood pet to death.

And why Dykes decided to storm a school bus and take a hostage in the first place remained unclear to investigators. Dykes missed a court appearance on a menacing charge on Wednesday morning, the day after the kidnapping. Officials have not commented on whether that court appearance may have motivated Dykes.

Hostage suspect was loner, missed court appearance

“There are a variety of events that may have led to this,” the law enforcement source close to the investigation told NBC on Tuesday. “But they are very complex.”

NBC News can now confirm that Dykes asked negotiators to allow a TV reporter to interview him. A law enforcement source said while that request is an indication of Dykes' thirst for attention, the motive for the kidnapping is more complex, and officials will continue to investigate.

President Obama offered his thanks to the FBI on Monday night.

“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,” a White House official said in a statement. “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.”

The young boy was “laughing, joking, playing, eating,” said Agent Richardson Monday. “He’s very brave, he’s very lucky. His success story is that he got out and he’d doing great.”

'Greatest birthday' for boy rescued from Alabama bunker by FBI

“If I could, I would do cartwheels all the way down the road,” Debra Cook, the boy’s aunt, told Good Morning America. “I was ecstatic.”

Ethan will celebrate his sixth birthday on Wednesday. Dale County School District officials have said that they are planning a celebration of Ethan’s birthday and the life of slain bus driver Charles Albert Poland, Jr. for another date.

NBC’s Pete Williams and Isolde Raftery contributed reporting.