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Officials: Boy safe, abductor dead after standoff

7:56 PM, Feb 4, 2013   |    comments
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A 5-year-old Alabama boy was rescued Monday afternoon when FBI agents stormed an underground bunker where a 65-year-old retired trucker had held him hostage since gunning down a school bus driver six days ago.

The kidnapper, Jimmy Lee Dykes, was killed, though the FBI did not say how he died.

FBI agents entered Dykes' homemade bunker in Midland City, Ala., at 3:12 p.m. CT (4:12 p.m. ET) after deciding the autistic boy was in imminent danger, FBI Special Agent in Charge Steve Richardson said at a news conference.

"Over the past 24 hours, negotiations deteriorated and Mr. Dykes was observed holding a gun," Richardson said.

The boy, identified so far only as Ethan, was "physically unharmed" and taken a hospital in nearby Dothan. He reportedly suffers from Asperger's syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

CBS News reported that Wednesday will be the boy's sixth birthday.

FBI bomb technicians were "clearing the scene," said agency spokesman Jason Pack.

Dykes, a Vietnam-era Navy veteran whom neighbors described as an anti-social loner, had held the boy six days in his homemade bunker since abducting him from the bus after gunning down the 66-year-old driver, Charles Poland Jr.

There were reports of one or two loud bangs on the property, and a neighbor who lives about a quarter-mile from where Dykes was holed up told the Associated Press that he heard a boom followed by a gunshot.

A federal law enforcement official told USA TODAY that authorities took action after growing increasingly concerned about Dykes' deteriorating mental state during the past 24 hours.

"They were not going to risk anything, but it was becoming clear that things were not going in the right direction,'' said the official, who was briefed on the matter but was not authorized to comment publicly.

"During the first few days he was agreeable and was taking care of the kid," the official said. "Maybe it was just the increasing realization that this was not going to end well for him."

Authorities had continued to communicate with Dykes through a ventilation pipe and to supply the boy with medicine and treats, including coloring books, crayons, potato chips, cheese crackers and a toy car. Agents also had gain limited visibility into the 8-foot-by-6-foot bunker.

Dykes had been linked to anti-government survivalists.

At a brief news conference earlier Monday afternoon, Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson said authorities had been "engaged" with Dykes "around the clock."

Olson said Dykes wanted to share "a story that's important to him, although it's very complex. We're trying to make a safe environment."

In an interview with ABC News, 14-year-old Tarrica Singletary, one of 21 students aboard the bus, described what happened last Tuesday afternoon aboard the bus in rural Midland City, tucked in the red-dirt hills of southeastern Alabama near the Florida Panhandle.

"He said he was going to kill us, going to kill us all," she said. "The bus driver kept saying, 'Just please get off the bus,' and (Dykes) said, 'Ah, all right, I'll get off the bus.'"

She said the driver "tried to back up and reverse and (Dykes) pulled out the gun and he just shot him, and he just took Ethan."

Surveillance drones had been flown over Dykes' property, officials said.

"It gives them more time to study this bunker," said former FBI profiler Brad Garrett, who is an ABC News consultant. "Does Mr. Dykes have any explosives? Has he booby trapped the doors if ever they tried to get in?"

AL.com reported "less visible activity" around the command center along Highway 231 than in previous days. The FBI also restricted what images photographers could take Monday before the bunker was stormed.

State Rep. Steve Clouse, who was in contact with his mother and had provided updated, declared the "nightmare is finally over."

"We're very thankful Ethan is safe and back in the arms of his family," he told The Dothan Eagle." We must still remember the family of Charles Poland. Because of his actions, more than 20 people on that bus are still alive."

Poland, who had driven a school bus since 2009, was buried Sunday.

In a statement, Gov. Robert Bentley called Poland "a true hero who was willing to give up his life so others might live. We are all inspired by his courage and bravery.

"I ask everyone across the state - and the nation - to continue to lift up these families and the entire Midland City community in your prayers."

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