Rural Rescue: A Timeline of the Alabama Hostage Crisis

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A tent covers the bunker where where a 5-year-old child was held for a week by Jimmy Lee Dykes in Midland City, Ala

The hostage standoff in Midland City, Ala., ended with a shootout between kidnapper Jimmy Lee Dykes and law enforcement and the rescue of the 5-year-old boy he abducted from a school bus after shooting its driver to death. Dykes, a 65-year-old Vietnam veteran, was killed in the confrontation. Below is a timeline of the events leading up to the conclusion of the standoff.

Jan. 29

  • A school bus making its rounds through rural Midland City, Ala., at the end of the school day is boarded by Jimmy Lee Dykes, a 65-year-old retired truck driver who was considered a menace by many in his community and was due in court on charges of threatening his neighbors.
  • Dykes demands to be given two boys, ages 6 and 8, from the crowded bus of 21 children. As he makes his way up the aisle, driver Charles Poland, 66, tries to block Dykes, who shoots him to death.
  • Dykes grabs a 5-year-old boy, identified by law enforcement officials only as Ethan, from the bus and takes him to an 6×8-foot underground bunker, stocked with supplies, that he has apparently been preparing for weeks.
Jimmy Lee Dykes

AP / Alabama Department of Public Safety

Jimmy Lee Dykes

Jan. 30

  • Helicopters and police cars swarm the area around the bunker, which is buried several feet underground on Dykes’ 100-acre property. He had been living for two years in a trailer purchased from FEMA that had been previously used for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
  • Dykes remains holed up with the boy underground, communicating only through a pipe leading to the surface. Negotiators do not believe that he will harm the boy, but acknowledge that Dykes has presented no list of demands and that  there appears to be no motive behind what has transpired.
  • Dykes agrees with authorities to have them lower down medicine for the boy, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, along with toys and coloring books. Meanwhile Dykes passes the time by watching television in the bunker.

Feb. 2

  • A round-the-clock vigil is started for Ethan in hopes that he is returned to his parents unharmed. A nearby church is converted into a staging center for authorities.
  • Meanwhile, visitations begin for bus driver Charles Poland, who is being hailed as a hero for giving his life to protect the children on the school bus. “He considered them his children,” Poland’s son Aaron told NBC, choking back tears. “And I know that’s the reason why my dad took those shots, for his children, just like he would do for me and my sister.”

Feb. 3

  • New details begin to emerge about Dykes. Neighbors describe him as an abrasive person who threatened to shoot anyone who came on his land. He is said to have once beaten a dog to death with a lead pipe for coming onto his property. He was thought to have anti-government views. Midland City councilmember Mel Adams said he has known Dykes since they were children. He says he has a family, but is estranged from them.
  • Records show Dykes served in the U.S. Navy from 1964 to 1969 and was in Vietnam. He worked in Florida as a truck driver for a length of time after his military stint, but how long is unclear. In 1995, he was charged with improper exhibition of a weapon, although that charge was dismissed. In 2000, he was arrested for marijuana possession. He returned to Alabama in 2011.
  • Charles Poland is laid to rest. At the service, letters from the children on his bus route are read aloud as well as a state resolution honoring him from State Sen. Harri Anne Smith of Slocomb, Ala.

Feb. 4

  • Negotiations begin to break down between authorities and Dykes. Police begin to worry that he may become violent toward the boy, leading them to plan a tactical assault on the bunker.
  • About 3 p.m., a series of gunshots are heard coming from the bunker, followed by a loud explosion, neighbors say, as FBI agents storm the bunker. Dykes is killed. Ethan is rescued unharmed and taken to a nearby hospital.
  • Bomb technicians enter the bunker and find a series of explosive devices, which they detonate. There are no other injuries or deaths.

Feb. 5

  • Ethan is released from the hospital, said to be laughing and playing with his toys, and returned to his family. After examining the child, doctors determined that he was not physically hurt during his ordeal.

Feb. 6

  • Ethan celebrates his sixth birthday, unharmed.