A 5-year-old boy who was being held hostage in an underground bunker in Alabama for nearly a week has been released while his abductor is now dead, authorities said Monday.
In a press conference Monday night, FBI Special Agent Steve Richardson told reporters the little boy had endured a lot and that he was receiving medical treatment. “The boy is laughing, joking, playing, he’s eating; he’s very brave, he’s very lucky, and the success story is that he is out safe and doing good,” he said.
Richardson was unable to clarify any other details as the incident is still being investigated.
Police say 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes shot and killed a bus driver last week in Midland City and then abducted the boy.
Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson said late Monday that Dykes was armed when officers entered the bunker to rescue the child. He said the boy was threatened but declined to elaborate.
“That’s why we went inside — to save the child,” he said.
Olson and others declined to say how Dykes died. But an official in Midland City, citing information from law enforcement, said police had shot Dykes.
The official requested anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.
FBI bomb technicians were clearing the property for explosive devices and planned to look more closely at the scene when it’s safe, FBI spokesman Jason Pack said.
“The most important thing is we have a safe recovery of a child,” said Col. Hugh McCall, director of the Alabama Department of Public Safety.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley thanked law enforcement officials, first responders and other personnel who assisted in the hostage recovery effort.
“I am so happy this little boy can now be reunited with his family and friends,” Bentley said in a statement. “We will all continue to pray for the little boy and his family as they recover from the trauma of the last several days.”
Melissa Nighton, city clerk in Midland City, said a woman had been praying in the town center Monday afternoon. Not long after, the mayor called with news that Dykes was dead and that the boy was safe.
“She must have had a direct line to God because shortly after she left, they heard the news,” Nighton said.
Michael Senn, pastor of a church near where reporters had been camped out since the standoff began, said the boy was always on his mind.
“So when I heard that he was OK, it was just like a thousand pounds lifted off of me,” he said.
Throughout the ordeal, authorities had been speaking with Dykes though a plastic pipe that went into the shelter. They also sent food, medicine and other items into the bunker, which apparently had running water, heat and cable television but no toilet. It was about 4 feet underground, with about 50 square feet of floor space. The little boy requested Cheez-Its and a red Hot Wheels car, both of which were delivered to the bunker.
On Sunday, more than 500 people paid final tribute to the driver that was killed, 66-year-old Charles Albert Poland Jr., hailing him as a hero for protecting the other children on the bus.
Poland is now “an angel who is watching over” the little boy, said Dale County School Superintendent Donny Bynum, who read letters written by three students who had ridden on Poland’s bus. “You didn’t deserve to die but you died knowing you kept everyone safe,” one child wrote.
Outside the funeral, school buses from several counties lined the funeral procession route. The buses had black ribbons tied to their side mirrors.
Dykes grew up in the Dothan area. Mel Adams, a Midland City Council member who owns the lot where reporters are gathered, said he has known Dykes since they were ages 3 and 4.
He said Dykes has a sister and a brother, but that he is estranged from his family.
Adams said he didn’t know what caused the falling-out, but that he knew Dykes “had told part of his family to go to hell.”
Dykes, also described as a loner who railed against the government, lived up a dirt road outside a tiny hamlet north of Dothan in the southeast corner of the state. His home is just off the main road north to the state capital of Montgomery, about 80 miles away.
Government records and interviews with neighbors indicate that Dykes joined the Navy in Midland City, serving on active duty from 1964 to 1969. His record shows several awards, including the Vietnam Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal. During his service, Dykes was trained in aviation maintenance.
At some point after his time in the Navy, Dykes lived in Florida, where he worked as a surveyor and a long-haul truck driver. It’s unclear how long he stayed there.
He had some scrapes with the law there, including a 1995 arrest for improper exhibition of a weapon. The misdemeanor was dismissed. He also was arrested for marijuana possession in 2000.
Dykes returned to Alabama about two years ago, moving onto the rural tract about 100 yards from his nearest neighbors, Michael Creel and his father, Greg.
“He said he lived in Florida and had hurricanes hit. He wanted someplace he could go down in and be safe,” Creel said. Authorities say his bunker is about 6 feet by 8 feet, and the only entrance is a trap door at the top.
Neighbors described Dykes as a man who once beat a dog to death with a lead pipe, threatened to shoot children for setting foot on his property, and patrolled his yard at night with a flashlight and a firearm. Michael Creel said Dykes had an adult daughter, but the two lost touch years ago.
The Dykes property has a white trailer which, according to Creel, Dykes said he bought from FEMA after it was used to house evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. The property also has a steel shipping container — like those on container ships — in which Dykes stored tools and supplies.
Next to the container is the underground bunker where authorities say Dykes holed up with the 5-year-old. Neighbors say that the bunker has a pipe so Dykes could hear people coming near his driveway. Authorities were using the ventilation pipe to communicate with him.
The mother of the 5-year-old boy was ‘hanging on by a thread,’ during the standoff, said a local politician who visited the woman.
State Rep. Steve Clouse, who represents the Midland City area, said the mother told him that the boy has Asperger’s syndrome as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.