Alabama hostage crisis continues; 5-year-old victim still locked in bunker
By Caitlin Dewey,
The hostage situation in Midland City, Ala., is approaching its third day with no new developments.
“We really don’t have a whole lot to add. I hate to tell you that, but that’s the way it is,” said Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson at a morning news conference in which he refused to answer questions about the 5-year-old kidnapped from a school bus Tuesday afternoon or the 65-year-old man holding him.
That man, Jimmy Lee Dykes, reportedly stopped a school bus on a dirt road about 3:35 p.m., shooting the driver four times with a pistol before seizing a random kindergartner and returning to an underground bunker on his property.
Since then, a team of local, state and federal officers, led by the FBI, have been desperately trying to talk Dykes out of the standoff. According to local news reports, police assault teams have staked out the perimeter of Dykes’s property and evacuated neighbors, while more than 50 police vehicles and several mobile command centers sit in a nearby church parking lot.
Police have made contact with Dykes through a PVC pipe that extends into the bunker. At one point, he allowed officers to pass down coloring books and medicine for the boy, identified only as Ethan, who reportedly suffers from Asperger’s syndrome and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. According to the Montgomery Advertiser, his sixth birthday is next week.
A negotiator can be heard yelling at Dykes in a recording posted by Montgomery’s WSFA-TV. “This isn’t going to end itself,” he says. “You need to come out and talk to us.”
Despite those orders, the scene on Private Road 1539 remains tense — and unchanging.
Local TV reporters near the bunker this morning tweeted that a helicopter circled the area and touched down nearby. Later, a Dale County Sheriff’s Office bus pulled up, and “a lot more movement” broke out on the scene, according to one reporter. But after that, nothing.
There are few other details about the situation and lots of questions. While police know the bunker has electricity, they don’t know how deep it is, what else is in it, or how Dykes and the boy are keeping warm in Alabama’s 30-degree nighttime temperatures. Perhaps most disconcertingly, Dykes’s motive for the kidnapping is still unclear.
Neighbors have painted Dykes as a paranoid loner who stalked his property at night, flashlight and shotgun in hand. He was arrested Dec. 22 and was due in court yesterday on charges that he yelled and fired shots at his neighbor over damage her pickup truck did to a speed bump in the dirt road, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.
In 2000, Dykes was arrested in Florida for marijuana possession, reports the Dothan Eagle. Five years earlier, he was charged for “improper exhibition of dangerous weapons or firearms,” which means he pulled a weapon in a “rude, careless, angry or threatening manner.”
Neighbors have also accused Dykes of threatening to shoot their children and pets. One said he beat her 120-pound dog to death with a lead pipe and bragged about it afterward. According to some reports, he was a retired trucker or surveyor, a survivalist who didn’t trust the government and a Vietnam veteran who may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Until more is known, residents of this tiny Bible Belt town are coping with prayer. On Wednesday, community members gathered in the town square for a candlelight vigil, where they sang “Amazing Grace.” On Twitter, locals have flooded #RescueEthan with prayers for the kidnapped boy, his family and his kidnapper.
“We don’t need gun control, we need Jesus,” wrote one woman.
“God please touch the heart of that man and allow him to feel your unconditional love and let him see that baby needs his mommy,” wrote another.
At Destiny Church, where police have parked their cars and organized rescue operations since Tuesday, services and activities have been canceled. But as yet more hours tick by without Ethan’s release, the church has repeated one tweet over and over.
#KEEPCALMANDWORSHIP, it says.