Exclusive: How Cops Saved Boy From Underground Bunker


"It was not a happy time because we thought that our approach posed the great risk of the loss of life down there, potentially to Ethan and to others."

The tactical team, which has practicing at a mock bunker nearby, was given the green light to assault the real bunker. They would charge into the narrow funnel at the top of the bunker, facing a man armed with guns and bombs.

The men knew they were being asked to carry out a highly dangerous mission, but to a man, they were ready to go.

"I'll tell you," Richardson said, "in the command post when the orders were granted to execute the plan ... there was silence."

Commander Kevin Cornelius' men were the ones about to go into hell to save Ethan. Most had families of their own.

"That certainly isn't lost on me," Cornelius said. "The majority of them have children."

Neil Tew of the Alabama State Police remembered speaking to one of the FBI tactical team members the night before the assault.

"It was very clear to me that he was willing to sacrifice his life if it meant saving Ethan's," Tew said, marveling at the bravery.

Then came the moment of truth. As the tactical team went into the bunker, the negotiators held their breath.

"I was feeling so many things," Amman said. "I was scared. I mean, these are my friends. I didn't like it. But we were there for a reason and those guys are heroes. Knowing what was waiting for them down there ... it's chilling."

As the team breached the bunker with a stun grenade, Dykes detonated the perimeter bomb. Smoke began to pour out of the bunker entrance, which was only three feet in diameter, and the tactical team descended into darkness.

"They immediately received gunfire from Mr. Dykes," Cornelius said. There was an IED in the bunker, as well, and Dykes tried to detonate it. Life and death for Ethan and the team would be determined in seconds.

"It seemed like an eternity," Richardson said. "I think we were all praying. I vividly remember looking at Kevin [Cornelius] and saying, 'You got to tell me the child is OK.'"

The silence and tension was finally broken by a beautiful sound: a child crying.

"As a parent, that's a thumbs up. If he's crying, he's breathing," Richardson said.

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But what about the tactical team?

"My next words, Richardson said, "were, 'Kevin, you've got tell me our team's OK. You've got to.'"

The team had executed the assault with precision and skill. Dykes was shot and killed in the confrontation. But no tactical team member sustained serious injury.

"Do you guys believe in miracles?" ABC News asked.

"I believe it was by the grace of God," Sheriff Olson replied.

"There was certainly divine intervention," Richardson said.

But with all the joy and of sense relief, the thoughts of law enforcement's "Team Ethan" returned to one man who was lost in his efforts to save the kids -- a man they could not forget: Poland, the school bus driver who sacrificed his life trying to save Ethan.

"How proud are you of him?" ABC News asked his widow, Jan.

"Very proud, very proud," she said, choking back tears.

She looked off into the soft, Alabama countryside and sighed.

"If I had him now," she said, "I probably would not let him go for a good, long time."

A trust fund had been established for Ethan's education.

Conservatorship for Ethan

C/0 Joe Adams - Attorney

PO Box 1487

Ozark, AL 36361

See More "Saving Ethan" on "World News with Diane Sawyer" and "20/20" TONIGHT

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