A hostage situation in the rural town of Midland, Alabama, that had captivated the nation for nearly one week, has ended. An armed man identified as Jimmy Lee Dykes, a 65-year-old Vietnam veteran, took a five-year-old boy hostage from a school bus in the rural community and shot to death the driver. The child hostage is “physically unharmed” and now hospitalized for observation.
FBI agent Stephen E. Richardson said in a press conference that at approximately 3:12 pm local time the boy, identified only as Ethan, was rescued by a special team of law enforcement officers. “Within the past 24 hours, negotiations deteriorated and Mr. Dykes was observed holding a gun,” Richardson said. “At this point, F.B.I. agents, fearing the child was in imminent danger, entered the bunker and rescued the child.” Dykes, said Richardson, is deceased. Richardson did not say, however, whether any shots were fired. Law enforcement agencies refused to comment on the details of the failed negotiations or the successful rescue of the child. Ethan has been described as having a form of autism.
Dykes had taken Ethan hostage on January 29 after boarding a school bus, taking him to a home-made underground bunker on his property. Known for his deep distrust of the government, Dykes fatally shot the driver of the bus taking Ethan home from school. Driver Charles A. Pollard, now heralded as a hero, was buried on February 3 following a memorial service attended by hundreds of fellow citizens.
It is still not clear how Dykes met his end, but there are reports that a small explosive device may have been used. Over the days of negotiations, authorities spoke to Dykes through a length of pipe that connected the bunker to the outside world. Through it, police provided medicine, food and toys to the child hostage. It is not clear how authorities could monitor Dykes’ activities while he was in the bunker. Residents near Dykes’ home said that they heard to loud booms that seemed like detonations at about the time of the rescue.
Some reports contend that a SWAT team was positioned near Dykes’ bunker, while an explosive charge was used to enter the lair and effect the rescue. It has also been reported that law enforcement used a camera inserted into the bunker to monitor Dykes’s movements, and thus became concerned about his mental stability. In a written statement, the FBI said that bomb technicians are clearing Dykes’ property for any possible explosive devices before analysts can further comb the scene.
Government records and media reports indicate that Dykes joined the US Navy, serving on active duty from 1964 to 1969. He was the recipient of several military awards, including the Vietnam Service Medal and, ironically, the Good Conduct Medal. Dykes was a retired truck driver and a native of the area who had recently settled there after living for a time in Florida. He has an estranged adult daughter, according to a neighbour.
When Dykes boarded the school bus on January 29, he not only shot and killed the driver, he also threatened to kill all the children on the bus. Fourteen-year-old Tarrica Singletary told ABC News, "He said he was going to kill us, going to kill us all." Neighbors claim that Dykes once beat a dog to death with a lead pipe, and also threatened to shoot any children straying onto his property. Singletary described the horror of the shooting and abduction, "The bus driver kept saying, 'Just please get off the bus,' and [Dykes] said, 'Ah, all right, I'll get off the bus. He just tried to back up and reverse and [Dykes] pulled out the gun and he just shot him, and he just took Ethan."
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.