Neighbors: Suspect in Ala. standoff was violent
MIDLAND CITY, Ala. (AP) — Jimmy Lee Dykes moved to a rural Alabama neighborhood on a rutted red clay road more than a year ago. It didn’t take long before he had developed a frightening reputation as a volatile man with anti-government views who threatened his neighbors at gunpoint and was viciously violent to wandering pets.
Multiple neighbors said Dykes, a 65-year-old retired truck driver, was the man suspected of boarding a school bus full of children near his home, killing the driver and taking one 5-year-old boy hostage to open a standoff that entered its second full day Thursday.
The neighborhood near Midland City, population 2,300, remained under siege after the Tuesday shooting, with the suspect and child holed up in a bunker-type shelter on the man’s property that was equipped with electricity, food and TV.
On Thursday, dozens of police cars and rental cars that had brought FBI agents to the site were parked about the state highway at the clay road’s entrance. A large law enforcement truck also pulled up before dawn to a staging area for law enforcement agents that was lit by bright lights overnight.
At least one ambulance was parked nearby and numerous television news satellite trucks also lined up across the rural highway.
Homes on the road had been evacuated earlier after authorities found what they believed to be a bomb on the property. SWAT teams earlier had taken up positions around the gunman’s property and police negotiators tried to win the kindergartener’s safe release.
The situation remained unchanged for hours as negotiators continued talking to the suspect, Alabama State Trooper Charles Dysart told a news conference late Wednesday. Earlier in the day, Sheriff Wally Olson said that authorities had “no reason to believe that the child has been harmed.”
Local TV station WDHN obtained a police dispatch recording of the moment officers first arrived at the site. On it, the officers are heard saying that they were trying to communicate with Dykes through a PVC pipe leading into the shelter.
Authorities gave no details of the standoff, and it was unclear if Dykes made any demands from the bunker, which resembled a tornado shelter.
State Rep. Steve Clouse, who met with authorities and visited the boy’s family, said the bunker had food and electricity, and the youngster was watching TV.
At one point, authorities lowered medicine into the bunker for the boy after his captor agreed to it, Clouse said.
The standoff began after school Tuesday afternoon. Sheriff Wally Olson said the man shot the bus driver several times when he refused to hand over the child. The gunman then took the boy away.
“As far as we know there is no relation at all. He just wanted a child for a hostage situation,” said Michael Senn, a pastor who helped comfort other traumatized children after the attack.
The bus driver, Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66, was hailed by locals as a hero who gave his life to protect the 21 students aboard the bus. Authorities say most of the students scrambled to the back of the bus when the gunman boarded and said he wanted two boys 6 to 8 years old.
But when the gunman went down the aisle, authorities said, Poland put his arm out to grab a pole near the front steps of the vehicle, trying to block the suspect. That’s when authorities say the driver was shot four times before the gunman grabbed the child at random and fled.
Asked about Dykes, neighbors said he was 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 shotgun.
He had been scheduled to appear in court Wednesday morning to answer charges he shot at his neighbors in a dispute last month over a speed bump.
Mike and Patricia Smith, who live across the street from Dykes and whose two children were on the bus, said their youngsters had a run-in with him about 10 months ago.
“My bulldogs got loose and went over there,” Patricia Smith said. “The children went to get them. He threatened to shoot them if they came back.”
“He’s very paranoid,” her husband said. “He goes around in his yard at night with a flashlight and shotgun.”
Another neighbor, Ronda Wilbur, said Dykes beat her 120-pound dog with a lead pipe for coming onto his side of the dirt road. The dog died a week later.
“He said his only regret was he didn’t beat him to death all the way,” Wilbur said. “If a man can kill a dog, and beat it with a lead pipe and brag about it, it’s nothing until it’s going to be people.”
Dykes had been scheduled to appear in court Wednesday to face a charge of menacing some neighbors as they drove by his house weeks ago. Claudia Davis said he yelled and fired shots at her, her son and her baby grandson over damage Dykes claimed their pickup truck did to a makeshift speed bump in the dirt road. No one was hurt.
“Before this happened, I would see him at several places and he would just stare a hole through me,” Davis said. “On Monday I saw him at a laundromat and he seen me when I was getting in my truck, and he just stared and stared and stared at me.”
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