The 5-year-old boy who was kidnapped and held hostage in Alabama was released Monday afternoon, after spending a week in an underground bunker with suspect Jimmy Lee Dykes, law enforcement officials told ABC News.
Dykes, 65, shot schoolbus driver Chuck Poland last week after Poland tried to stop Dykes from carrying out his threat of killing all the children in the vehicle, police said. Dykes made off with an autistic 5-year-old boy, identified only as Ethan, and retreated to his underground bunker.
USA Today reported that Dykes was killed on Monday after a week in which police negotiated with him through a ventilation tube, to no avail. Hostage negotiators were able to comfort Ethan during his six days underground by sending down medicine and treats, including coloring books, crayons, potato chips, cheese crackers and a toy car.
Dykes was a retired truck driver and decorated veteran who served in the Navy from 1964 to 1968 and grew up in the Midland City area of Alabama, spending most of his life there. He is known to have become estranged from his family and daughter, with his landlord telling reporters Dykes “had told part of his family to go to hell.”
His motives were unclear, although those familiar with him said he had threatened to shoot children in the past for running on his lawn.
“He said he was going to kill us, going to kill us all,” said Tarrica Singletary, 14, who was on the bus when Dykes abducted Ethan.
“The bus driver kept saying, ‘Just please get off the bus,’ and [Dykes] said, ‘Ah, all right, I’ll get off the bus.’ He just tried to back up and reverse and [Dykes] pulled out the gun and he just shot him, and he just took Ethan.”
At least 21 children were able to escape the bus through an emergency exit in the back.
Drones began to fly over Dykes’ bunker – which measured about 6 feet by 8 feet - after law enforcement officials told the media he seemed to have no demands, indefinitely delaying an end to the situation. FBI profiler and ABC News consultant Brad Garrett said the surveillance drones gave officials better insight into how to resolve the situation with force.
“It gives them more time to study this bunker,” he said. “Does Mr. Dykes have any explosives? Has he boobytrapped the doors if ever they tried to get in?”
During conversations with the media over the weekend and into Monday, Dale County Sherriff Wally Olson stressed that police were in “constant” contact with Dykes.
“Based on our discussions he feels like he has a story that is important to him although it’s very complex,” Olson said on Monday after confusing the public over the weekend by thanking Dykes for “taking care of our child” as well as for keeping an open line of communication with them. It’s possible that Olson’s comments were meant to appeal to Dykes, who told the FBI he had electricity in the bunker.
Neighbor Michael Creel speculated that Dykes’ motive was to bring attention to his bunker and his political beliefs.
“He was bragging about it,” Creel said. “He said, ‘Come check it out.’ I believe he wants to rant and rave about politics and government. He’s very concerned about his property. He doesn’t want his stuff messed with.”
Other neighbors told the Huffington Post the former survivalist had “anti-government” views and used to patrol the streets around his house with a flashlight and a firearm. At one point, they said, he beat a dog to death with a metal pipe.
Ethan’s abduction terrified parents in the area, and many of them kept their children home from school in the days after the kidnapping. Poland, though, has been hailed as a community hero who died protecting the children on the bus. Ethan was taken to a nearby hospital on Monday and reunited with his family.