A close-knit Alabama community has blanketed their town with fliers imploring people to pray for a boy held hostage for almost seven days, as authorities release new details on the man allegedly holding him in an underground bunker.
Authorities say 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, gunned down a school bus driver and then abducted a 5-year-old boy from the bus, taking him to the bunker on his rural property.
On Sunday, more than 500 people paid final tribute to the driver, 66-year-old Charles Albert Poland Jr., hailing him as a hero for protecting the other children on the bus.
Dykes, described as a loner who railed against the government, lives up a dirt road outside this 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.
The FBI said in a statement Sunday that authorities continue to have an open line of communication with Dykes and that they planned to deliver to the bunker additional comfort items such as food, toys and medicine. They also said Dykes was making the child as comfortable as possible.
Government records and interviews with neighbors indicate that Dykes grew up in the Dothan area and 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.
Later, Dykes lived in Florida, where he worked as a surveyor and a long-haul truck driver although it’s unclear how long.
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.
He 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.
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 stores tools and supplies.
Next to the container is the underground bunker where authorities say Dykes is 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 have been using the ventilation pipe to communicate with him.
The younger Creel, who said he helped Dykes with supplies to build the bunker and has been in it twice, said Dykes wanted protection from hurricanes.
“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 the bunker is about 6 feet by 8 feet, and the only entrance is a trap door at the top.
Such bunkers are not uncommon in rural Alabama because of the threat of tornadoes.
Greg Creel was a friend of Dykes, but he said he would not comment for The Associated Press. “I will only talk to the police and the FBI,” he said.
Michael Creel said Dykes kept to himself and listened a lot to conservative talk radio.
“He was very into what’s going on with the nation and the politics and all the laws being made. The things he didn’t agree with, he would ventilate,” he said.
James Arrington, police chief of the neighboring town of Pinckard, put it differently.
“He’s against the government, starting with Obama on down,” he said.
Morris Dees of Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, a group that tracks hate crimes, said Dykes was not on the group’s radar.
Although the fatal shootings in December at a school in Newtown, Conn., are still on everyone’s mind, Dees said he doesn’t think Dykes was trying to be a copycat.
“Probably not. He had a whole bus load full of kids, and he could have walked up there and shot the whole crowd of them,” he said.
“I think he’s just a really angry and bitter guy with some anger management issues,” Dees said. “He is just against everything — the government and his neighbors.”
The mother of the 5-year-old boy is ‘hanging on by a thread,’ 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.
Residents are praying for the safe return of the boy.
“The community is real concerned,” said Fred McNab, mayor of Pinckard, Ala. “You can tell by the food that’s been carried over there to the church. It’s just devastating. We want it to come to a resolution. We want to save that little child.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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