NEW: Talks with the suspect continue, and there's no sign the boy is harmed, a sheriff says
A man took a boy he didn't know off a bus, after shooting its driver, officials say
He took the kindergartener into a 4-foot deep underground bunker, officials add
Sheriff says investigators have no reason to believe boy has been harmed
Somewhere underneath this red southeastern Alabama dirt is a little boy.
A kindergartner, snatched from the safety of his school bus by a gunman and stashed in an underground bunker;
A boy who needs daily medication;
A child that this Bible Belt community of 2,300 is praying for.
Many details have been released about the man suspected to be the boy’s abductor:
How he was supposed to have been in court to face charges that he’d shot at his neighbors over a minor property dispute;
How he boarded a stopped school bus Tuesday and shot dead the bus driver;
How he worked on the bunker in the middle of the night for more than a year.
But many questions remained in Midland City on Thursday:
What’s in the bunker beside the man and the boy?
How are they keeping warm when temperatures have dipped into the 30s in the area?
Is the boy safe?
And why, of all people, him?
The gunman stormed into the school bus Tuesday afternoon and demanded that the driver hand him a child.
The driver, 66-year-old Charles Poland Jr., was a gentle Bible-reading man who could not stand to discipline the children on his bus because it hurt his heart, the Dothan Eagle newspaper reported.
When he refused the demand, police said, the gunman shot him several times as 22 horrified children scrambled for cover.
But the man was able to grab the boy and drag him to his underground bunker.
And the standoff began.
Authorities have not released the name of the man they suspect to be the gunman. But neighbors and news outlets around Midland City identified him as Jimmy Lee Dykes, 65, a Vietnam veteran and a retired truck driver.
Neighbor Jimmy Davis told CNN that Dykes began digging a hole on his property soon after he moved in down the road from him.
Davis, who works a night shift, said Dykes worked on his bunker in the middle of the night – every other night, between 2 and 3 a.m., for a year and a half.
He was friendly and welcoming and told Davis the hole would be a storm shelter.
Now, the bunker Dykes dug is four feet deep, and Dykes has been known to stay there for up to eight days, said James Arrington, police chief in Pinckard, Alabama.
It wasn’t clear what supplies were in the bunker Thursday, Arrington said.
Tim Byrd, chief investigator with the Dale County Sheriff’s Office, told the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch that Dykes was a “survivalist type” with “anti-America” views.
“His friends and his neighbors stated that he did not trust the government, that he was a Vietnam vet, and that he had PTSD,” Byrd told the civil rights group. “He was standoffish, didn’t socialize or have any contact with anybody.”
The court date
On Wednesday, the day after the standoff began, Dykes was supposed to appear in court to answer to charges that he’d shot at Davis during a December argument over the dirt road that separated their homes.
Davis was moving out when his truck – hauling a trailer – dug ruts into the dirt speed bump that Dykes had built up across the road.
Dykes “got mad about what he saw” and stood by the side of the road, yelling and cursing, said Davis’ mother, Claudia.
He then ran to his van, got a pistol and fired two shots at the truck, the Davises said.
Fortunately, no one was hurt, including Claudia Davis’ 6-month-old daughter, who was inside.
The Wednesday court date in nearby Ozark was for menacing, a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to six months in jail.
Another neighbor, Ronda Wilbur, said Dykes beat her dog to death with a lead pipe and then bragged to her husband about it.
“He made it very clear that any animals or people that came onto his property would be killed,” she said.
Wilbur said she complained to animal control authorities and thought that this would stop the behavior.
“He just got increasingly more bizarre,” Wilbur said.
Very little information has been released about the boy.
Police and school officials have said the child is 6, but a state representative in close contact with the family said he is 5 and will turn 6 in two weeks.
One thing is for certain: the kindergartner didn’t know Dykes, State Rep. Steve Clouse said.
Through a 60-foot-long PVC pipe that extends into the bunker, authorities have pleaded with the suspect to let the boy go – to no avail.
The man agreed to let police send down coloring books, crayons and the prescription medicine the little boy desperately needs for Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
But nothing else has changed.
As the standoff dragged into Thursday, the boy’s parents were doing their best to hold it together.
They were “holding on by a thread,” Clouse said.
On Thursday, dozens of law enforcement vehicles clogged the dead-end dirt road that leads to Dykes’ house. They were from local police, the FBI, even the federal Homeland Security department.
Authorities evacuated neighbors. Officials closed schools in three nearby districts for the week.
With little movement, police have been reluctant to share much with the media.
Authorities called off a planned news conference late Wednesday night, saying there was nothing new to report. Early Thursday morning, Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson gave reporters a similar message, but said officers and volunteers trying to resolve the situation were holding up well.
Late Thursday night, Olson addressed reporters again. And again, the information he provided was limited, even as he repeatedly thanked the gathered media for their efforts and patience.
“Negotiators continue to communicate with the suspect,” Olson said, “and there’s no reason to believe the child has been harmed.”
A reporter asked what the community could do to help.
“Pray,” the sheriff said.
CNN’s George Howell reported from Midland City and Lateef Mungin wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Tristan Smith, Marlena Baldacci and In Session’s Jessica Thill contributed to this report.