It was a seemingly hopeless situation: A 5-year-old boy named Ethan had been snatched off a school bus and was being held hostage by a homicidal kidnapper in an underground bunker wired with explosives. If police did not meet the kidnapper's demands, he could detonate the bombs, killing himself and little Ethan.
And yet, six days after the kidnapping and just minutes after a close-quarters gun battle, little Ethan emerged from the bunker unscathed.
Now, the details of Ethan's rescue can be revealed for the first time.
ABC News has obtained exclusive access to the audio recordings of Ethan's kidnapping, the resulting six-day standoff at the bunker, and the child's dramatic rescue by an FBI hostage and rescue team. ABC News has spoken exclusively with key members of that team -- federal, state and local authorities whose courage and determination saved Ethan's life.
EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: Inside Dykes' Underground Bunker
See More "Saving Ethan" on "World News with Diane Sawyer" and "20/20" TONIGHT
It is a story of heroes, and it began on a warm Alabama afternoon late last January, when a man named Jimmy Lee Dykes boarded Ethan's school bus waving a gun and demanding children. A camera on the bus recorded the moment. The voice is raspy, desperate, and chilling:
"I need two boys six to eight years old," Dykes barked. "Six to eight years old. I mean it. Right now! Right now!"
The bus driver, Charles Poland, knew Dykes, and resisted his demands.
"I can't do it," Poland told Dykes.
"Do it!" Dykes screamed.
Poland replied calmly and simply, "No."
With a gun staring him in the face, Poland said, "Sorry, you're going to have to shoot me."
"How about I shoot a kid then," Dykes said.
"No. It's my responsibility to keep these kids on the bus. I can't turn them over to somebody else," Poland said.
Crouching behind a bus seat, 15-year-old Tre' Watts called 911. He told the dispatcher there was a man on the bus.
"He's got a gun," Watts told her, "and he keeps asking for kids."
Startled, the dispatcher said, "He's aiming the gun at the bus driver?!"
"Yes ma'am," Watts replied.
You can hear the screams of the children and muffled gun shots on the tape.
The dispatcher asked, "Oh my gosh, what's going on?"
"He just shot Mr. Poland," Watts said. "I think Mr. Poland is dead."
Watts was right. Poland died after being shot five times.
Dykes dragged Ethan to an underground bunker on his property just yards from the bus stop.
It was bad, but FBI Special Agent Steve Richardson said it could have been worse if not for the courage of that bus driver.
"He could've taken several kids if it were not for the specific actions of Chuck Poland," Richardson told ABC News.
Richardson also had high praise for Watts, who crouched behind that bus seat and dialed 911 with the gunman only a few feet away.
"I would hope, as a 23-year law enforcement veteran, that I could have performed as good as the 15-year-old young man did when he dialed 911 ... unbelievable."
The dispatcher who Watts spoke to alerted Sheriff Wally Olson.
"My heart just stopped," he said. "I had to really stop and gather my thoughts."
Because of Watts' 911 call, law enforcement was able to respond quickly. The first concern, of course, was for the safety of the child, 5-year-old Ethan. The operation would be all about saving Ethan. And Richardson, the on-scene commander for the FBI, was not optimistic.
"We thought Ethan was going to die," Richardson told ABC News. "Our negotiators, our behavioral science folks, behavioral analysis folks told us the best you can hope for is a murder-suicide."