MIDLAND CITY, Ala. — Authorities stormed an underground bunker Monday in southeastern Alabama, freeing a 5-year-old boy and leaving his captor dead after a week of fruitless negotiations that left authorities convinced the boy was in imminent danger.
Jimmy Lee Dykes, 65, took the child off a school bus after fatally shooting the driver, authorities said. He was known by neighbors for his anti-government rants and for patrolling his property with a gun, ready to shoot trespassers. He had stayed for several days in the tiny bunker before.
“He always said he’d never be taken alive. I knew he’d never come out of there,” said an acquaintance, Roger Arnold.
Dykes had been seen with a gun, and officers concluded the boy was in imminent danger, said Steve Richardson of the FBI’s office in Mobile. It was not immediately clear how authorities determined the man had a gun or exactly how Dykes died.
On Monday evening, officers were sweeping the property to make sure Dykes had not set up bombs that could detonate. Full details of the bunker raid had not emerged. Neighbors described hearing what sounded like gunshots around the time officials said they entered the shelter.
Authorities declined to elaborate on how they had observed Dykes or on how he died, citing the pending investigation.
Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson said Dykes was armed when officers entered the bunker to rescue the child. He said the boy was threatened but declined to elaborate.
“That’s why we went inside – to save the child,” he said.
Authorities said the boy has been reunited with his mother and appears to be OK. He was taken to a hospital in nearby Dothan. Officials have said he has Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Richardson said he had been to the hospital to see the boy, who was laughing, joking, eating and “doing the things you’d expect a normal 5- or 6-year-old to do.”
Michael Senn, the pastor of a church near where reporters had been camped out since the standoff began, said he was relieved the child had been taken to safety. However, he also recalled the bus driver, Charles Albert Poland Jr., who had been hailed as a hero for protecting nearly two dozen other children on the bus before being shot.
“As we rejoice tonight for (the boy) and his family, we still have a great emptiness in our community because a great man was lost in this whole ordeal,” Senn said.
The rescue capped a drama that drew national attention to a town of 2,400 people nestled amid peanut farms and cotton fields. The child’s plight prompted nightly candlelight vigils.
Throughout the ordeal, authorities had been speaking with Dykes though a plastic pipe that went into the shelter. They also sent food, medicine and other items into the bunker, which apparently had running water, heat and cable television but no toilet. It was about 4 feet underground, with about 50 square feet of floor space.
Melissa Knighton, the city clerk in Midland City, said a woman had been praying in the town center Monday afternoon. Not long after, the mayor called with news that Dykes was dead and that the boy was safe.
“She must have had a direct line to God because shortly after she left, they heard the news,” Knighton said.
Neighbors described Dykes as a menacing, unpredictable man. Government records indicate he served in the Navy from 1964 to 1969, earning several awards, including the Vietnam
Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.
He had some scrapes with the law in Florida, including a 1995 arrest for improper exhibition of a weapon. The misdemeanor was dismissed. He also was arrested for marijuana possession in 2000.
Ronda Wilbur, a neighbor who said Dykes beat her dog to death last year with a pipe, said she was relieved to be done with the stress of knowing he was patrolling his yard and willing to shoot at anyone or anything that trespassed.
“The nightmare is over,” she said. “It’s been a long couple of years of having constant stress.”