Hope and Fear Mix as a Hostage Situation Drags On

Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

MIDLAND CITY, Ala. -- The vigils continued in and around this southeastern Alabama town on Saturday. They were held in private homes, at the gazebo next to City Hall and, perhaps most somberly, on the grassy hill where swarms of federal agents are watching the underground bunker where they say a man named Jimmy Lee Dykes has held a 5-year-old boy hostage for more than four days now.

Law enforcement officials are still saying little about attempts to rescue the boy, who was kidnapped on Tuesday when Mr. Dykes raided a school bus and killed the driver. Officials have been in constant communication with Mr. Dykes through a plastic pipe that he originally installed, a neighbor said, to eavesdrop on trespassers from within the bunker.

The bunker has food and electricity, and Sheriff Wally Olson of Dale County said in a news conference on Saturday that it also had blankets and an electric heater to get through the near-freezing temperatures at night. He added that toys, coloring books and medication had been passed into the bunker for the boy, who has Asperger's syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

He did not say if it is known whether the boy has actually been taking the medicine.

"It's one thing when you've got your mother and grandmother giving it to you every day," said Steve Clouse, a state representative whose district includes Midland City.

Perhaps suggesting that Mr. Dykes is following events from his bunker, Sheriff Olson concluded the short news conference by offering gratitude to Mr. Dykes for allowing officials to pass on such necessities.

"I want to thank him for taking care of our child," the sheriff said. "It's very important."

The Daily Mail of London reported on Saturday that Mr. Dykes had initially requested to local authorities that he deliver his grievances to a reporter in exchange for handing over the boy. Two people familiar with the early days of the operation corroborated The Daily Mail's account, one adding that Mr. Dykes even had a particular reporter in mind.

Neighbors described Mr. Dykes as perpetually either threatening others or seeing himself as under threat, his interactions with them limited to conspiratorial tirades against the government or warnings of violence, sometimes by brandishing a gun.

"He told us it was his land and anybody that went on to it would be killed," said Ronda Wilbur, 55, who lives next to Mr. Dykes and said he once beat her dog with a lead pipe after it walked onto his property.

Before federal agents were actually stationed on his property and the national news media was camped out across the street, Mr. Dykes spoke in paranoid tones about surveillance and the government, neighbors said.

"He was more and more antigovernment, antipolice, anti-everything," said Ms. Wilbur's husband, John Wilbur, 59.

Mr. Dykes, who has lived in a travel trailer here for about two years, has a troubled past, including arrests on charges connected to drugs, drunken driving and, in Florida in 1995, unlawful display of a firearm. On Wednesday he was due in court in this county, accused of shooting at a neighbor in a dispute over driving on his property.

But the most telling indications of his troubles may lie outside the official record.

At midnight, when people would come home from late shifts, Mr. Dykes would be digging with a shovel in the red clay behind his trailer. Or he would be on patrol, walking the perimeter of his compound with a flashlight and a long gun.

Before building the bunker, Mr. Dykes made long, snaking mounds out of dirt and odd structures out of cinderblocks. He built the bunker in about three months, said a neighbor, Michael Creel, 28, who described it as four to five feet wide by six feet long, made of plywood and lined with plastic insulation and sandbags.

Mr. Creel said he was admiring Mr. Dykes's okra bed one day when Mr. Dykes invited him to see the bunker. "It kind of threw me off the first time I climbed down in there," he said. "He said, 'Climb down in there and holler, see if we can hear you.' That was a little bit of a red flag."

Mr. Creel said he believed that Mr. Dykes had several handguns, including an antique Colt .45, as well as a rifle and a shotgun. Other neighbors said they had heard Mr. Dykes firing what sounded like a semiautomatic weapon in the field behind his property.

Mr. Creel's father, Greg, said he had been subpoenaed to appear in the case involving the dispute with the neighbor. He said Mr. Dykes had given him a handwritten letter several pages long, presumably in connection with the trial.

Mr. Creel, 65, said he did not want to read the letter and had handed it over to law enforcement. "I am sure it gives insight to this man's crazed mentality," he said.

Meanwhile, people in town continue to gather each night at a gazebo on the grounds of City Hall, where they hold candles in salt-filled plastic cups. Friday night's vigil began with announcements: a reminder to eat at the local Ruby Tuesday, which was making donations to the family.

A mother of one of the boy's classmates spoke. There were prayers, for the family of the bus driver, Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66; for the boy and his family; even for Mr. Dykes.

They closed, as usual, with a chorus of "Amazing Grace," and then resumed the long wait.

Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

nation

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here