Authorities storm Alabama bunker, rescue young boy

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MIDLAND CITY, Ala. -- A six-day standoff between an angry and violent survivalist who held a 5-year-old boy hostage in an underground bunker and a legion of local, state and federal law enforcement officials ended Monday with the death of the kidnapper and the freeing of the boy.

FBI Special Agent Stephen E. Richardson told reporters that the boy, named Ethan, was rescued at 3:12 p.m., and "appeared physically unharmed and is being treated at a local hospital." He added, "The subject is deceased."

The subject was 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes, who boarded a school bus last Tuesday afternoon, killing the driver and taking the boy with him into a bunker he had installed in his backyard.

Neighbors speculated that Mr. Dykes had kidnapped the boy to air his grievances on a larger platform, and at a news conference earlier Tuesday, Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson acknowledged that as a major motive. "Based on our discussions, he feels like he has a story that is important to him, although it's very complex," the sheriff said.

Officials had been in constant communication with Mr. Dykes, speaking with him on a mobile phone and passing toys, food and coloring books into the bunker through a plastic pipe Mr. Dykes had installed so he could hear trespassers on his property. Officials had also been able to pass medication to Ethan, described as having of Asperger's syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

In comments to reporters after the rescue, Agent Richardson suggested that talks had recently broken down. "Within the past 24 hours, negotiations deteriorated, and Dykes was observed holding a gun," he said. "At this point, FBI agents, fearing the child was in imminent danger, entered the bunker and rescued the child."

For some time, officials had been able to monitor movements within the bunker, said two people briefed on the operation. They had also built a bunker mock-up nearby, where authorities could test various options while devising a rescue plan.

On Monday afternoon, sensing Mr. Dykes was becoming rattled and that the threat to the boy was growing more severe, authorities dropped two devices into the bunker that created loud explosions, heard by people across the highway. The blasts disoriented Mr. Dykes, and immediately afterward two or three men moved into the bunker and retrieved the child. Mr. Dykes was killed in the rescue.

"I am thankful that the child who was abducted is now safe," Alabama Gov. Robert 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."

Ethan was freed by an FBI hostage rescue team. Fears that the bunker might be booby-trapped proved unfounded, but bomb experts were scouring it.

The standoff began last Tuesday afternoon when Mr. Dykes approached a bus driven by Charles Albert Poland Jr., saying he wanted to give him some broccoli he had grown in his garden. The two knew each other; Poland had given Mr. Dykes a gift of eggs and homemade jam several days earlier. Once on the bus, Mr. Dykes handed Poland a note and demanded two children between ages 6 and 8.

Poland opened the emergency door in the back of the bus and, as the children escaped, he blocked Mr. Dykes' way; Mr. Dykes shot him four times, killing him. Mr. Dykes then managed to take Ethan and set off the six-day siege of his bunker.

"He was a very bad man, a terrible man," said Terrica Singletary, 14, who was on the bus that day and was among the 20 children who managed to flee.

On Sunday, Poland was given a hero's funeral, with hundreds coming to a civic center up the road to honor a small-town bus driver whom many attendees had never met. The little community also began to learn about Mr. Dykes, who had moved onto a patch of property on the grassy hill about two years ago.

Neighbors of Mr. Dykes generally kept their distance, which he made easy. He frequently made violent threats to anyone who wandered onto his property, once even beating a neighbors' dog to death with a lead pipe, and would sometimes sit holding a rifle when young children played in a nearby yard. Late at night, he would dig in the backyard of his travel trailer, or patrol his property with a flashlight and a long gun.

When he did enter into conversations, they frequently involved conspiracies about the federal, state and local government, and the very forces he had brought down on himself when he kidnapped Ethan.

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First Published February 5, 2013 5:00 AM


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