February 4, 2013

Authorities storm Alabama bunker, rescue young boy

The incident ends a weeklong standoff, which started when Jimmy Lee Dykes shot and killed a bus driver and abducted a 5-year-old boy.

The Associated Press

MIDLAND CITY, Ala. — Authorities stormed an underground bunker Monday in southeastern Alabama, freeing a 5-year-old boy and leaving his captor dead after a week of fruitless negotiations that left authorities convinced the child was in imminent danger.

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Armed law enforcement personnel station themselves near the property of Jimmy Lee Sykes, Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 in Midland City, Ala. Officials say they stormed a bunker in Alabama to rescue a 5-year-old child being held hostage there after Sykes, his abductor, was seen with a gun. (AP Photo/AL.com, Joe Songer)

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The funeral procession of slain bus driver Charles "Chuck" Poland makes its way down Highway 231 in Ozark, Ala., Sunday Over 60 motorcycles and dozens of school buses join the funeral procession. The Ozark Civic Center was packed with mourners for the funeral. Burial for Poland is in Newton, Ala. (AP Photo/AL.com, Joe Songer)

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Jimmy Lee Dykes, 65, had taken the child off a school bus after fatally shooting the driver, authorities said. He was known by neighbors for his anti-government rants and for patrolling his property with a gun, ready to shoot trespassers. He had stayed for several days in the tiny bunker before.

"He always said he'd never be taken alive. I knew he'd never come out of there," said an acquaintance, Roger Arnold.

Dykes had been seen with a gun, and officers concluded the boy was in imminent danger, said Steve Richardson of the FBI's office in Mobile. It was not immediately clear how authorities determined the man had a gun, or exactly how Dykes died.

Monday evening, officers were sweeping the property to make sure Dykes had not set up any bombs that could detonate. Full details of the bunker raid had not yet emerged. However, neighbors described hearing what sounded like gunshots around the time officials said they entered the shelter.

At a late Monday news conference, authorities declined to elaborate on how they had observed Dykes or on how he died, citing the pending investigation.

Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson said Dykes was armed when officers entered the bunker to rescue the child. He said the boy was threatened but declined to elaborate.

"That's why we went inside — to save the child," he said.

Authorities said the boy has been reunited with his mother and appears to be OK.

Richardson said he had been to the hospital to see the boy and he was laughing, joking, eating and "doing the things you'd expect a normal 5- or 6-year-old to do."

Michael Senn, pastor of a church near where reporters had been camped out since the standoff began, said he was relieved the child had been taken to safety. However, he also recalled the bus driver, Charles Albert Poland Jr., who had been hailed as a hero for protecting nearly two dozen other children on the bus before being shot by Dykes.

"As we rejoice tonight for (the boy) and his family, we still have a great emptiness in our community because a great man was lost in this whole ordeal," Senn said.

The rescue capped a long drama that drew national attention to this town of 2,400 people nestled amid peanut farms and cotton fields that has long relied on a strong Christian faith, a policy of "love thy neighbor" and the power of group prayer. The child's plight prompted nightly candlelight vigils.

Throughout the ordeal, authorities had been speaking with Dykes though a plastic pipe that went into the shelter. They also sent food, medicine and other items into the bunker, which apparently had running water, heat and cable television but no toilet. It was about 4 feet underground, with about 50 square feet of floor space.

Authorities said the kindergartner appeared unharmed. He was taken to a hospital in nearby Dothan. Officials have said he has Asperger's syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Melissa Knighton, city clerk in Midland City, said a woman had been praying in the town center Monday afternoon. Not long after, the mayor called with news that Dykes was dead and that the boy was safe.

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Additional Photos

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Law enforcement personnel work at check point Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, in Midland City, Ala., near the home where the Tuesday's school bus shooting suspect is barricaded in a bunker with a young child as hostage. Police, SWAT teams and negotiators were at a rural property where a man was believed to be holed up in a homemade bunker Wednesday after fatally shooting the driver of a school bus and fleeing with a 6-year-old child passenger, authorities said. (AP Photo/The Dothan Eagle, Jay Hare)

Jimmy Lee Dykes
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Jimmy Lee Dykes

Alabama Department of Public Safety

 


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