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The family was relieved and grateful for all the support in a community where ribbons, fliers and vigils all symbolized the prayers for the safe return of the boy, whom law enforcement officials have only identified by his first name, Ethan.

The boy's mother, in a statement released by authorities, expressed her thanks for all the hard work of so many officers to bring her son home. The woman declined to be identified, the statement said. During his captivity, his only comforts were a Hot Wheels car and other treats passed to him by officers.

"For the first time in almost a week, I woke up this morning to the most beautiful sight ... my sweet boy," she said. "I can't describe how incredible it is to hold him again."

In Midland City, a town of about 2,400 nestled among peanut and cotton fields, residents were relieved that the boy was safely rescued from Dykes. Neighbors had described Dykes as an unstable menace who beat a dog to death and threatened to shoot trespassers while patrolling his property armed.

Children and teachers were trying to get back to normal, though some children who were on the bus where Dykes killed the driver on Jan. 29 have not yet returned to school, said Donny Bynum, superintendent of Midland City schools. Counselors and clergy are at the school to help any distraught students.

Officials hope to eventually throw a party to celebrate the boy's sixth birthday and to honor the memory of Charles Albert Poland Jr., the slain bus driver hailed as a hero for trying to protect nearly two dozen youngsters on his bus. No date has been set, Bynum said.

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Associated Press writer Phillip Rawls in Montgomery, Ala., and Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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