Police say a hostage situation at a bunker in Midland City, Ala., has ended after a seven-day standoff between police and a 65-year-old gunman who kidnapped a 5-year-old boy from a school bus after shooting its driver to death.
The boy, who has Asperger’s syndrome, is safe, authorities say, and was taken to a nearby hospital in Dothan, Ala. His captor, Jimmy Lee Dykes, is dead. How the boy was recovered and Dykes was killed is unclear, but neighbors reported hearing a loud explosion coming from the area, then gunshots. Two ambulances were reported leaving the scene at around 4 p.m., without lights or sirens. An FBI spokesman said at a press briefing on Monday afternoon that the boy was recovered at around 3 p.m., when officers entered the bunker to take the boy back.
The hostage situation began last week when authorities said Dykes reportedly burst onto a school bus, demanding to have two boys, between the ages of 6 and 8, without giving a reason why. When he started down the bus aisle, driver Charles Poland, 66, tried to block him, but Dykes allegedly shot him to death. Afterward, he took the boy from the bus to an underground bunker near his property, where he’d been holed up ever since, according to Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson. Neighbors were evacuated when authorities discovered what looked to be an explosive device on his land.
Hostage negotiators had been trying to work out a solution with Dykes, who apparently kept the boy safe, and requested medicine, snacks and toys for him. To the end, it remained unclear what Dykes’ motive was or what he wanted with children. Authorities say he was not related to the kidnapped child.
Dykes had been scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday to face charges of menacing his neighbors, who have complained for years about his erratic, if not cruel behavior. One woman said Dykes beat her dog to death with a lead pipe for coming across to his side of a dirt road. He was also said to have threatened to shoot children for coming onto his property. “He’s very paranoid,” Mike Smith told the Associated Press. “He goes around in his yard at night with a flashlight and shotgun.”
The surrounding community held a vigil for the kidnapped child, while at the same time hailing Poland as a hero for protecting the children on the bus. Dale County School Superintendent Donny Bynum called Poland an “an angel who is watching over” the kidnapped child.
A decorated Vietnam veteran, Dykes lived in a trailer at the end of a dirt road. He grew up in the area, but had lived in Florida, although it is unclear how long he stayed there. He was arrested in 1995 for illegally unveiling a weapon, a misdemeanor that was later dropped. He was also arrested in 2000 for marijuana possession. He returned to Alabama in 2011 and settled in this small town about 80 miles (130 km) from Montgomery, Ala.