February 1, 2013

Alabama hostage standoff stretches into third day

Jay Reeves and Melissa Nelson-Gabriel / The Associated Press

MIDLAND CITY, Ala. — More than three days after authorities said a gunman shot a school bus driver dead, grabbed a kindergartner and slipped into an underground bunker, the man showed no signs Friday of turning himself over to police.

Speaking into a 4-inch-wide ventilation pipe leading to the bunker, hostage negotiators have tried to talk the gunman, identified by neighbors as Jimmy Lee Dykes, into freeing the 5-year-old boy. One local official said the child had been crying for his parents.

Dykes, a 65-year-old retired truck driver, is accused of pulling the boy from a school bus Tuesday and killing the driver who tried to protect the 21 youngsters aboard. The gunman and the boy were holed up in a small room on his property that authorities likened to a tornado shelter.

"The three past days have not been easy on anybody," Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson said late Thursday. He said authorities were communicating with the suspect. "There's no reason to believe the child has been harmed."

But there were signs that the standoff could continue for some time.

The shelter has electricity, food and TV, according to a state legislator. The police chief said the captor has been sleeping and told negotiators that he has spent long periods in the shelter before.

The shelter was about 4 feet underground, with about 6-by-8 feet of floor space and a PVC pipe that negotiators were speaking through, said James Arrington, police chief of the neighboring town of Pinckard.

"He will have to give up sooner or later because (authorities) are not leaving," Arrington said. "It's pretty small, but he's been known to stay in there eight days."

Midland City Mayor Virgil Skipper said he has been briefed by law enforcement agents and has visited with the boy's parents.

"He's crying for his parents," he said. "They are holding up good. They are praying and asking all of us to pray with them."

Republican Rep. Steve Clouse, who represents the Midland City area, said he visited the boy's mother Thursday and that she is "hanging on by a thread."

"Everybody is praying with her for the boy," he said.

Clouse said the mother told him that the boy has Asperger's syndrome, an autism-like disorder, as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Police have been delivering medication to him through the pipe, he added.

The normally quiet red clay road leading to the bunker was teemed Friday with more than a dozen police cars and trucks, a fire truck, a helicopter, officers from multiple agencies and news media near Midland City, population 2,300.

Police vehicles have come and gone steadily for hours from the command post, a small church taken over for that use

Early Friday, activity picked up when a team in military-style uniforms, many toting weapons, got out of a big van in the pre-dawn chill and moved into a staging area. One appeared to be dog handler.

Dykes was known around the neighborhood as a menacing figure who neighbors said 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.

The chief confirmed that Dykes held anti-government views, as described by multiple neighbors: "He's against the government — starting with Obama on down."

"He doesn't like law enforcement or the government telling him what to do," he said. "He's just a loner."

Authorities say the gunman boarded a stopped school bus Tuesday afternoon and demanded two boys between 6 and 8 years old. When the driver tried to block his way, the gunman shot him several times and took the 5-year-old boy off the bus.

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