The mother of the Alabama boy who was kidnapped from his school bus and held in an underground bunker for six days said on Wednesday she had not been allowed to speak with him during his captivity and worried that he would think she had abandoned him.
Jennifer Kirkland said in an interview on "The Dr. Phil Show" that she had found some comfort in knowing that her son Ethan's abductor had cooked him chicken meals and asked law enforcement to fetch a red toy car he said the boy missed.
"I think he took care of Ethan to the best of his capabilities," Kirkland said during the taped interview that aired on Wednesday.
Kirkland said her son's disabilities may have touched a soft spot with 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes, who authorities said gunned down Ethan's school bus driver on January 29 before fleeing with the kindergarten student to a homemade bunker near Midland City in southeast Alabama.
Ethan Gilman, who turned 6 two days after his February 4 rescue, has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder and Asperger's syndrome, his mother said.
Dykes was shot and killed by law enforcement agents during the rescue.
"I was told in the beginning that (Dykes was) sympathetic to children with disabilities," Kirkland said.
The talk show aired video of Ethan and his mother, during which the blond-haired child presented host Phil McGraw with a picture from a Power Rangers coloring book.
When talk turned to the boy riding the bus to school, Ethan whispered to his mother, "My bus driver is dead."
Kirkland said Ethan had a special bond with slain bus driver Charles Poland. Before he was killed, Poland had refused to let the gunman take any of the children off the bus.
Poland, 66, always had Ethan sit directly behind the driver's seat so he could keep an eye on the boy, Kirkland said.
"The reason I think Ethan was taken off the bus is because when he saw Mr. Poland shot, Ethan passed out" and Dykes picked him up, Kirkland said. "I think in his own way, (Dykes) was trying to care for him."
Kirkland said that as the standoff with Dykes dragged on, she began to doubt that she would ever get her son back. But, she said, she forgave Dykes and asked authorities to try to avoid hurting him.
"I could not be angry through this because my job through this was to be the mother, the concerned mother that I needed to be," she said. "With hatred in me, I could never have made it through it."
Kirkland said Ethan has had trouble sleeping and has shown sensitivity to loud noises. She worries about how he will cope long-term but said she takes pride in how he handled his time in the bunker.
"I was very proud and still am that Ethan complied, he did his best and he stayed alive," she said.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg)