Hostage crisis prompted 'huge community effort'
The now 6-year-old himself -- who for days was held hostage by an abductor in an underground bunker in Midland City, Ala. -- has even made a subsequent appearance on national TV with his mother, Jennifer Kirkland, in an exclusive interview.
During the harrowing days when countless people waited and prayed for Ethan's release, there were those who worked behind the scenes to provide food, needed supplies and support to Ethan's family and law enforcement.
Among them: Jim Hill, pastor of Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Ozark, Ala., a North American Mission Board-endorsed disaster relief chaplain through the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions and a member of The Salvation Army board of directors in Dale County, Ala.
Hill, who was called by The Salvation Army into chaplain service during the hostage crisis, spent several days ministering one-on-one to Ethan's family along with two other area pastors. Hill said chaplains were provided around the clock and included Kenneth Hale, director of missions for the Dale Baptist Association, and Ken Farley, church development director for the Columbia Baptist Association.
Hill encouraged the chaplains to shake hands with those working at the site and let them know they were being prayed for. Almost every time he spoke with one of those people, Hill said the individual would express gratefulness for how the community had come together in such a remarkable manner.
That unity showed itself in many ways: the tables full of homemade snacks for law enforcement, the prayer vigils organized by area high school students and the support from local businesses and individuals. "It was a huge community effort," Hill said.
Hale agreed. "It was not one group -- it was everybody working together," he said, noting that the Dale association worked in conjunction with The Salvation Army, which coordinated food for the law enforcement command center while churches provided support.
The Dale association stepped up to deliver snacks and Gatorade, and various churches within the association provided meals. Hale recalled a particular meal when approximately 300 people were fed.
Hale added that the association worked in partnership with the Columbia Baptist Association, noting how the community united to meet people's needs. "It was just an unbelievably cooperative effort between the whole community, churches and associations," he said.
And even in other areas of the state, people like Carrie Kreps took steps to help through a fundraising effort. The member of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church in Birmingham, Kreps was "deeply affected" by Ethan's ordeal.
After Ethan's rescue and a friend of Kreps got approval from Ethan's family, Kreps began an online fundraiser called "Send Ethan to Disney World." In one day, the goal of $7,000 was met and more donations have continued to arrive, with pledges by nearly 300 donors. Any remaining funds will be added to a trust fund that has been established for Ethan.
Julie Payne is a newswriter for The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), where this article first appeared. Samford University communications contributed to this report.