Boy in center of Alabama hostage standoff released, abductor dead
A 5-year-old boy who was being held hostage in an underground bunker in Alabama for nearly a week has been released while his abductor is now dead, authorities said Monday.
Police say 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes shot and killed a bus driver last week in Midland City and then abducted the boy.
Dykes was seen with a gun on Monday afternoon after negotiations with authorities deteriorated, FBI Special Agent Steve Richardson told reporters. Fearing the child's safety, FBI agents entered the bunker and rescued him, he added. Richardson said Dykes is dead, but the boy appeared unharmed and is being treated at a local hospital.
It is unclear how Dykes was killed. Witnesses say they heard an explosion and gunfire in the area.
"The most important thing is we have a safe recovery of a child," said Col. Hugh McCall, director of the Alabama Department of Public Safety.
Arizona Gov. Robert Bentley thanked law enforcement officials, first responders and other personnel who assisted in the hostage recovery effort.
"I am so happy this little boy can now be reunited with his family and friends," Bentley said in a statement. "We will all continue to pray for the little boy and his family as they recover from the trauma of the last several days."
The FBI said in a statement Sunday that authorities had open lines of communication with Dykes during the standoff. The little boy requested Cheez-Its and a red Hot Wheels car, both of which were delivered to the bunker, a separate statement said. Authorities had said they also delivered medicine and other comfort items, and that Dykes was made the child as comfortable as possible.
On Sunday, more than 500 people paid final tribute to the driver that was killed, 66-year-old Charles Albert Poland Jr., hailing him as a hero for protecting the other children on the bus.
Poland is now "an angel who is watching over" the little boy, said Dale County School Superintendent Donny Bynum, who read letters written by three students who had ridden on Poland's bus. "You didn't deserve to die but you died knowing you kept everyone safe," one child wrote.
Outside the funeral, school buses from several counties lined the funeral procession route. The buses had black ribbons tied to their side mirrors.
Dykes grew up in the Dothan area. Mel Adams, a Midland City Council member who owns the lot where reporters are gathered, said he has known Dykes since they were ages 3 and 4.
He said Dykes has a sister and a brother, but that he is estranged from his family.
Adams said he didn't know what caused the falling-out, but that he knew Dykes "had told part of his family to go to hell."
Dykes, also described as a loner who railed against the
government, lived up a dirt road outside this tiny hamlet north of Dothan in the southeast corner of the state. His home is just off the main road north to the state capital of Montgomery, about 80 miles away.
Government records and interviews with neighbors indicate that Dykes grew up in the Dothan area and joined the Navy in Midland City, serving on active duty from 1964 to 1969. His record shows several awards, including the Vietnam Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal. During his service, Dykes was trained in aviation maintenance.
At some point after his time in the Navy, Dykes lived in Florida, where he worked as a surveyor and a long-haul truck driver. It's unclear how long he stayed there.
He had some scrapes with the law there, including a 1995 arrest for improper exhibition of a weapon. The misdemeanor was dismissed. He also was arrested for marijuana possession in 2000.
Dykes returned to Alabama about two years ago, moving onto the rural tract about 100 yards from his nearest neighbors, Michael Creel and his father, Greg.
"He said he lived in Florida and had hurricanes hit. He wanted someplace he could go down in and be safe," Creel said. Authorities say the bunker is about 6 feet by 8 feet, and the only entrance is a trap door at the top.
Neighbors described Dykes as a man who once beat a dog to death with a lead pipe, threatened to shoot children for setting foot on his property, and patrolled his yard at night with a flashlight and a firearm. Michael Creel said Dykes had an adult daughter, but the two lost touch years ago.
The Dykes property has a white trailer which, according to Creel, Dykes said he bought from FEMA after it was used to house evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. The property also has a steel shipping container -- like those on container ships -- in which Dykes stored tools and supplies.
Next to the container is the underground bunker where authorities say Dykes holed up with the 5-year-old. Neighbors say that the bunker has a pipe so Dykes could hear people coming near his driveway. Authorities were using the ventilation pipe to communicate with him.
The mother of the 5-year-old boy was 'hanging on by a thread,' during the standoff, said a local politician who visited the woman.
State Rep. Steve Clouse, who represents the Midland City area, said the mother told him that the boy has Asperger's syndrome as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.