Elian was having trouble sleeping. He kept climbing out of his little race-car bed and going into the living room, where his great-uncle Lazaro lay on the white leather couch. The boy had been watching his relatives fight over him all this time; he had seen the news reports. It had been another long day. He snuggled next to Lazaro, who stroked the boy's hair. "I'm afraid. Are they coming for me?" Elian asked again and again. Lazaro tried to comfort him, explaining in a calm voice that everything would be O.K. "Relax," Lazaro said in Spanish. "Relax, Eliancito."
Donato Dalrymple was dozing on another couch nearby, still dressed in his jeans and polo shirt. One of the fishermen who rescued Elian on Thanksgiving Day, the former missionary had practically moved into the Gonzalez house these past few days, convinced that he had a calling to protect this kid, no matter what. When he heard the pounding and the screaming, he thought it was a dream.
As Dalrymple tells it, when the Immigration and Naturalization Service agents stormed into the house just after 5 a.m., he grabbed Elian and fled to a bedroom, locking the door and then trying to duck into a closet. But the closet was crammed too full of clothes, and they could not close the folding doors. "Help me!" Elian cried. "Help me!"
The INS agents, armed with 9-mm MP5 submachine guns, looked first for Elian's cousin Marisleysis, assuming she would be the one to lead them to Elian. "Where the f------- is the damn boy?" Marisleysis says they shouted at her. She begged them to hold off, she says. "I will give you the boy; just put the guns down!" As they raced through the rest of the house, the agents knocked over a statue of the Virgin Mary and a huge picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the living room. Finally, they kicked their way into the bedroom, breaking the door in half.
They found Dalrymple and Elian clinging to each other. "No, no no!" Elian screamed. They gave him to Betty Mills, an eight-year INS veteran who spoke to Elian in Spanish as she covered him with a blanket and raced out to a waiting white minivan. As the pepper spray wafted outside the house, bystanders could hear the agents shouting the code meaning that they had Elian in their possession: "Bingo! Bingo! Bingo!" Mills told Elian that it was O.K., that he was going to see his "papa" and take his first ever airplane ride--not, she kept promising, a boat back to Cuba, the stuff of his worst nightmares.
Lazaro Gonzalez ran into the front yard and collapsed. Dalrymple screamed, "Bastards!" as he, too, ran to the front yard and hurled plastic milk crates at the agents. "It was a horror show," he says. As the motorcade drove off, agent Jim Goldman called INS headquarters to report that Elian was scared and shaken, but safe. Goldman said he was stroking Elian's back, while Mills told him of his coming reunion with Papa. "This is one tough little kid," Goldman marveled. "I was shaking. He was not."