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Child 'OK' as Alabama hostage ordeal enters third day

11:56 AM, Jan 31, 2013   |    comments
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MIDLAND CITY, Ala. (USA TODAY) - A hostage standoff continued into the third day Thursday in rural Alabama where a man who kidnapped a 5-year-old boy from a school bus after killing the driver kept the child hostage in an underground bunker at his home, which was surrounded by police and SWAT teams.

Asked how long the standoff would last, Dale County Sheriff Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson told reporters early Thursday, "We have no way of knowing that right now."

Dale County authorities said the child appeared to be on good condition, despite the ordeal.

"We have no reason to believe that the child has been harmed," Olson said earlier.

State Rep. Steve Clouse, who met with authorities and visited the boy's family, said that the bunker had food and electricity, and that the boy was watching TV.

Authorities communicated with the suspect through a PVC pipe connected to the bunker, WSFA-TV reported, and were also able to pass some unidentified medicine for the boy.

Local residents attended vigils at several churches Wednesday night, lighting candles and praying for the boy's safe release, according to WSFA-TV.

A law enforcement official who is not authorized to speak to the media identified the man as 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes, a retired truck driver and Navy veteran.

Sheriff's deputies had arrested Dykes on Dec. 22 and charged him with menacing for a Dec. 10 complaint, court records show. He spent four days in jail before posting the $500 bail.

His trial was to have begun Wednesday at 9 a.m.

Instead, he is accused of grabbing a 5-year-old boy off a school bus Tuesday afternoon after killing the 66-year-old bus driver, Charles Albert Poland, who had tried to block access to the vehicle.

Patricia Smith, a neighbor whose two children were on the bus, said the gunman shot Poland four times and fled with the 5-year-old. The suspect then took the boy to a homemade bunker that he had apparently been constructing for years on his nearby property.

Authorities said Dykes lives in a small trailer at the end of a red dirt road, but they gave few details about the hostage standoff or whether Dykes had made any demands.

Dale County Sheriff's Office reports Dykes is connected to the anti-government survivalist movement.

In an interview Wednesday with The Dothan Eagle, the bus driver's wife, Jan Poland, recalled their ritual of sitting in their enclosed porch after he returned from driving, having coffee and watching the sun set or listening to the rain.

She said their favorite Bible verse was 2 Timothy 1:12, which she recited with their daughter, Lydia:

"For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day."

"That is what I hold onto right now." she said, clutching her daughter's hand. "God knows. He is the one who is going to have to bring closure to my heart."

Terry Howard, the interim pastor at First Assembly of God in Newton, Ala., described Poland as "a good guy" who "loved to help people."

Protecting the children "would be in his nature," he said, noting that Poland's wife is a substitute teacher.

Authorities communicated with the suspect through a PVC pipe connected to the bunker, WSFA-TV reported, and were also able to pass some unidentified medicine for the boy.

Neighbors said Dykes had lived for about a year at the residence in Midland City, population 2,300. Before that he spent time in Texas and in Panama City, Fla., The Dothan Eagle reported.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show he was arrested in Panama City in February 1995 and charged with improper exhibition of dangerous weapons or firearms, a misdemeanor. The charge was dismissed four months later.

The Southern Poverty Law Center's Hatewatch, which tracks radical hate groups, said Tim Byrd, chief investigator with the Dale County Sheriff's Office, described Dykes as having "anti-America" views and ties with the anti-government "survivalist" movement.

"His friends and his neighbors stated that he did not trust the government, that he was a Vietnam vet, and that he had PTSD," Byrd said, according to Hatewatch. "He was standoffish, didn't socialize or have any contact with anybody. He was a survivalist type."

Michael Creel, who lives nearby, told The Eagle that Dykes' bunker, similar to those used against tornadoes, was 4 feet wide, 6 feet long and about 8 feet deep, covered in sand.

Neighbor Mike Smith said Dykes once threatened to shoot his children when the family's dogs entered his property.

Neighbor Ronda Wilbur said Dykes was known to go out in the middle of the night to shoot birds and rabbits. She said Dykes had cut down nearly all the trees on his lot, erected a wire fence and "would go berserk" if a dog strayed onto his land.

She said her dog died of injuries after Dykes beat it with a lead pipe.

USA TODAY

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