Boy held hostage in bunker after being snatched from school bus
A school bus driver was fatally shot in Midland County, Ala., by a man who boarded the bus with children on board and then abducted a six-year-old student. He is holding the child hostage in an underground bunker. WSFA's Samuel King reports.
Updated at 8:42 p.m. ET: A man described as a survivalist stormed a school bus, killed the driver, took a boy captive and was still holding him Wednesday in an underground bunker in southeastern Alabama.
At a press conference Wednesday evening, Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson said authorities "have no reason to believe the child has been harmed." Hostage negotiators have been communicating with the suspect since Tuesday night, after the man boarded the school bus.
Authorities said they had gotten medication to the boy, who is 5 or 6, early in the day. There were no clues as to when the hostage drama might end.
A source close to the investigation identified the gunman to NBC News as Jimmy Lee Dykes, 65, and said he was a loner and survivalist who “does not trust the government” and holds “anti-American views.”
People in the remote town of Midland City said that they had seen him tirelessly digging up his own yard, even his driveway, sometimes in the middle of the night -- apparently building what one man in the neighborhood described as a bomb shelter fortified by sand.
Dykes burst onto the yellow school bus around 3:40 p.m. on Tuesday, authorities said. When the driver, Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66, tried to stop Dykes from taking children off the bus, he was fatally shot. The source close to the investigation told NBC News that four spent bullets were found at the scene.
Authorities offered no hints to the gunman’s motive.
Dykes had been due in court Wednesday morning to face a misdemeanor charge of menacing. A neighbor, James E. Davis Jr., claimed that Dykes had pointed a pistol at his truck on Dec. 10 and fired the weapon.
Dale County Board of Education
Neighbors described Dykes as a man who was volatile and troubled.
Read more: Hostage suspect was loner, missed court appearance
Davis told the newspaper that Dykes would be “outside in his yard digging dirt at 2:30 in the morning.” Another neighbor, Danny Dean, told NBC News that he had dug up his own driveway.
Rhonda Wilbur told WSFA that Dykes was a longtime source of concern in the neighborhood because “he has been like a time bomb waiting for him to go off.” Wilbur told reporters that Dykes had beaten her dog to death with a lead pipe.
Poland, the bus driver, had held the job since 2009. Linda Williams, a county tax clerk whose cousin was married to Poland, described him to NBC News as “a good Christian man” who was active in church.
A minister, Michael Senn, told WSFA that the other children ran for safety and hid behind Destiny Church.
“All the kids are at a safe place,” he said, though he added that they all appeared to be in shock.
Creel told the newspaper that the man was “the type that thinks the government’s out to get them.”
In addition to the county sheriff’s department, the FBI and a SWAT team were on the scene. A woman answering the phone at the Midland Police Department said the FBI had completely taken over and that local police were no longer involved. Authorities ordered people living nearby to leave during the standoff.
The office of Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said the governor was closely watching the situation.
“Prayers for law enforcement, this child’s family and the community are lifted up,” the governor’s press secretary, Jennifer Ardis, said on Twitter.
Rep. Martha Roby, who represents the area, also asked for prayers and added on Twitter: “Let’s be patient as law enforcement officers do their best to get to the bottom of this and bring the person responsible to justice.”
Schools in Dale County and the nearby city of Ozark were closed for the rest of the week. Dale County schools said counselors would be available to help students, including those who were on the bus.
The Dothan Eagle via AP
A man boarded this stopped school bus in the town of Midland City on Tuesday afternoon and shot the driver when he refused to let a child off the bus. The bus driver died.