Suspect in bus shooting holds child hostage in bunker

4:38 PM, Jan 30, 2013   |    comments
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by Scott Johnson and Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY

MIDLAND CITY, Ala. - Police, SWAT teams and negotiators kept vigil Wednesday near an underground bunker in rural Alabama where a gunman was holding hostage a 6-year-old boy he had snatched from a school bus after killing the driver, authorities and neighbors said.

The gunman, identified by neighbors as Jimmy Lee Dykes, a combative, paranoid 65-year-old retired truck driver, was supposed to appear in court Wednesday to answer charges he shot at his neighbors in a dispute over a speed bump.

Patricia Smith, who lives across the street from Dykes in this rural community in far southeastern Alabama, said her children had been on the bus Tuesday afternoon when the shooting occurred. They told her that two other children had just been dropped off when Dykes stepped onto the bus and grabbed the door so that the driver couldn't close it.

Dykes told the 66-year-old driver, Charles Albert Poland Jr., that he wanted two boys, 6 to 8 years old, without saying why, Smith said. The suspect tried to step into the aisle of the bus, but Poland put his arm out to block him. Dykes fired four shots at Poland with a handgun, Smith said.

The suspect then took the boy to a homemade bunker that he apparently been constructing for years on his nearby property.

Poland, who had been a school bus driver for four years, died later.

Authorities communicated with the suspect through a PVC pipe connected to the bunker, WSFA-TV reported, and were also able to pass some medicine to the unidentified young hostage.

The Southern Poverty Law Center's Hatewatch, which tracks radical hate groups, said Tim Byrd, chief investigator with the Dale County Sheriff's Office, described Dykes as having "anti-America" views and ties with the antigovernment "survivalist" movement.

"His friends and his neighbors stated that he did not trust the government, that he was a Vietnam vet, and that he had PTSD," Byrd said, according to Hatewatch. "He was standoffish, didn't socialize or have any contact with anybody. He was a survivalist type."

Michael Creel, who lives nearby, told The Dothan Eagle that Dykes' bunker, similar to those used against tornadoes, was four feet wide, six feet long and about eight feet deep, covered in sand.

Neighbor Mike Smith said Dykes once threatened to shoot his children when the family's dogs entered his property.

Ronda Wilbur, another neighbor, said the suspect was known to go out in the middle of the night to shoot birds and rabbits. She said Dykes had cut down nearly all the trees on his lot, erected a wire fence and "would go berserk" if a dog strayed onto his land.

Nearby residents were evacuated from their homes as a precautionary measure, said Rachel David, a spokeswoman for the police department in the nearby town of Dothan.

The Dale County, Daleville City and Ozark City school systems canceled classes on Wednesday because of the standoff.

Contributing: Scott Johnson, Montgomery Advertiser; The Associated Press

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