Monday, February 4, 2013

FBI storms Alabama bunker after seven days: Boy safe; kidnapper dead

A 5-year-old boy was found safe on Monday after law enforcement agents stormed an underground bunker in southern Alabama. The boy's kidnapper was killed. NBC's Gabe Gutierrez reports.

Following a daring rescue, a 5-year-old boy held captive for seven days in an underground bunker in southern Alabama is alive and his kidnapper, Jimmy Lee Dykes, is dead, the FBI said Monday afternoon.

“Within the past 24 hours negotiations deteriorated and Mr. Dykes was observed holding a gun," Special Agent in Charge Stephen Richardson, of the Mobile, Ala., office, said at a press briefing Monday. "At this point, FBI agents, fearing the child was in imminent danger, entered the bunker and rescued the child.”

The child was recovered at 3:12 p.m. CT and appears physically unharmed, Richardson said. He is being treated at a local hospital.

The Dothan Eagle newspaper reported that two loud blasts came from the scene shortly before 3:30 p.m. According to the report, an ambulance then drove up the private dirt road where Dykes’ homes is located and then left a short time later.

The blast apparently came from a "diversionary device," an FBI source confirmed to NBC News. FBI officers then went through a door at the top of the bunker.

Dykes -- described by his neighbors as a paranoid survivalist -- grabbed the boy from a school bus in Midland City, Ala., just after 3:30 p.m. CT last Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Dykes boarded the bus and demanded that the bus driver, Charles Poland, 66, turn over two young children. When Poland refused, Dykes then fatally shot him and took the boy identified by only his first name, Ethan.

Dykes, a decorated Vietnam veteran, then took Ethan to an underground bunker that neighbors had seen him digging. The bunker is believed to be roughly 8 feet by 6 feet and to be stocked with supplies. The bunker has a ventilation pipe that authorities used to deliver items. Authorities have not said how long they believe Dykes could have lasted underground, or discussed a motive for the kidnapping.

Over the last week, hostage negotiators delivered a red Hot Wheels car, Cheez-Its crackers and other food and medicine to the boy, who has a mild form of autism. The FBI said Sunday that the boy’s captor “continues to make the environment as comfortable as possible for the child.”

The boy has Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a state representative said last week.

Law enforcement officials remained largely mum about the details of the case, possibly because it was believed that Dykes kept a television set in the bunker. Early on in the negotiations, they moved reporters farther from the scene. Throughout the week, they canceled press conferences, saying that nothing had changed.

Many of the law enforcement press conferences appeared to have been directed more at Dykes than at reporters. Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson went so far as to thank Dykes “for taking care of our child.”

“That’s very important,” Olson said.

Before the standoff ended on Monday, Olson told reporters that Dykes "feels like he has a story that’s important to him. ... Although it’s very complex, we’re trying to make a safe environment.”

Some media reports suggested that Dykes had wanted to speak with a reporter.

Former FBI hostage negotiator Clint Van Zandt said on the TODAY show that patience is key in hostage situations.

“Eighty-five percent or more of standoff situations like this end nonviolently,” Van Zandt said on Saturday. “Law enforcement doesn’t want to do anything precipitously that could cause anybody to be hurt at this time when the talking cure will likely work in this situation.”

Following the end of the hostage situation, Alabama Gov. Robert J. Bentley released a statement, hailing the efforts to save the boy but mourning the death of the bus driver:

"I am thankful that the child who was abducted is now safe. I am so happy this little boy can now be reunited with his family and friends. We will all continue to pray for the little boy and his family as they recover from the trauma of the last several days."

Federal and Alabama law enforcement officials discuss deteriorating negotiations with a kidnapper and the decision to storm an underground bunker and rescue a 5-year-old boy being held captive.
NBC staff writers Gabe Gutierrez, Erin McClam and Matthew DeLuca and Jeff Black contributed reporting. 
Son says bus driver in Alabama hostage crisis gave life for 'his children'
Sheriff to Alabama hostage-taker: 'I want to thank him for taking care of our child'

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