Details emerge about man in Ala. abduction, standoff Continues to hold boy in bunker; bus driver buried
BY BRUCE SMITH and MELISSA NELSON-GABRIEL, Associated Press
MIDLAND CITY, Ala. -- As an Alabama standoff and hostage drama marked a sixth day Sunday, more details emerged about the suspect at the center, with neighbors and officials painting a picture of an isolated man estranged from his family.
Authorities say Jim Lee Dykes, 65 -- a decorated Vietnam-era veteran known as Jimmy to neighbors -- gunned down a school bus driver and abducted a 5-year-old boy from the bus, taking him to an underground bunker on his rural property.
The driver, 66-year-old Charles Albert Poland Jr., was buried Sunday.
Dykes, described as a loner who railed against the government, lives up a dirt road outside this tiny hamlet north of Dothan in the southeastern corner of the state.
The FBI said in a statement Sunday that authorities continue to have an open line of communication with Dykes. The little boy requested Cheez-Its and a red Hot Wheels car, both of which were delivered to the bunker, a separate statement said. Authorities had said they also were delivering medicine and other comfort items, and that Dykes was making the child as comfortable as possible.
In the nearby community of Ozark on Sunday, more than 500 people filed into the Civic Center to pay a final tribute to Poland, who was being hailed as a hero for protecting the other children on the school bus before he was shot Tuesday.
On Tuesday afternoon, Dykes, to whom Poland had given a gift of yard eggs and homemade jam days earlier, boarded Poland's bus and handed him a note demanding that he hand over two young children. Poland opened the emergency door in the rear of the bus and blocked Dykes' way as the children escaped. Dykes shot him four times and took a 5-year-old boy named Ethan, whom he has been holding in an underground bunker ever since.
Twenty children got away.
Poland is now "an angel who is watching over" the little boy, said Dale County School Superintendent Donny Bynum, who read letters written by three students who had ridden on Poland's bus. "You didn't deserve to die but you died knowing you kept everyone safe," one child wrote.
Outside the funeral, school buses from several counties lined the funeral procession route. The buses had black ribbons tied to their side mirrors.
Midland City Mayor Virgil Skipper said Dykes' sister is in a nursing home.
Government records and interviews with neighbors indicate that Dykes joined the Navy in Midland City, serving on active duty from 1964 to 1969. His record shows several awards, including the Vietnam Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.
After the Navy, Dyles lived in Florida. He returned to Alabama about two years ago, moving onto the rural tract about 100 yards from his nearest neighbors, Michael Creel and his father, Greg.
Neighbors described Dykes as a man who once beat a dog to death with a lead pipe, threatened to shoot children for setting foot on his property, and patrolled his yard at night with a flashlight and a firearm. Michael Creel said Dykes had an adult daughter, but the two lost touch years ago.
His property has a white trailer that, according to Creel, Dykes said he bought from FEMA after it was used to house evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. The property also has a steel shipping container.
Next to the container is the underground bunker where authorities say Dykes is holed up with the 5-year-old. Neighbors say the bunker has a pipe so Dykes could hear people coming near his driveway. Authorities have been using the ventilation pipe to communicate with him.
The younger Creel, who said he helped Dykes with supplies to build the bunker and has been in it twice, said Dykes wanted protection from hurricanes. Such bunkers are not uncommon in rural Alabama because of the threat of tornadoes.
Michael Creel said Dykes kept to himself and listened to a lot of conservative talk radio.
"He was very into what's going on with the nation and the politics and all the laws being made. The things he didn't agree with, he would ventilate," he said.
James Arrington, police chief of the neighboring town of Pinckard, put it differently.
"He's against the government, starting with Obama on down," he said.