MIDLAND CITY, Ala. — Hostage negotiators spoke into a 4-inch-wide ventilation pipe on Thursday, trying to talk a man into releasing a 5-year-old kindergartner and end a standoff that had stretched into its third day.
The man, identified as retired truck driver Jimmy Lee Dykes, 65, was accused of pulling the boy, named Ethan, from a school bus Tuesday and killing the driver. He was holed up with the boy in a small room on his property that authorities compared to tornado shelters common in the area.
James Arrington, police chief of the neighboring town of Pinckard, said the shelter was about 4 feet underground, with about 6-by-8 feet of floor space and a PVC pipe that negotiators were speaking through.
There were signs the standoff could continue for some time: A state legislator said the shelter has electricity, food and TV. Arrington said the captor has been sleeping and told negotiators he has spent long periods in the shelter before.
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By Thursday night, no end was in sight. The FBI stayed in contact with Dykes by day and let him sleep at night, Arrington said. “They’re taking time and trying to wear him out,” he said. “He may do harm if they try to rush him. We don’t know how much ammunition or bombs he has.”
No one is sure why Dykes took the boy.
“He don’t care too much for the government,” Arrington said. “That’s all we know.”
Republican Rep. Steve Clouse, who represents the Midland City area, said he visited the boy’s mother Thursday and that she is “hanging on by a thread.”
Clouse said the mother told him Ethan has Asperger syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Police have been delivering medication through the pipe, he said.
The killing of the bus driver and the resulting standoff soon became one more point of discussion in the national debate about guns.
The bus driver, Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66, encountered Dykes as he drove children home from school Tuesday. The bus stopped and Dykes jumped on, according to police reports based on interviews with children who were on the bus, and then he demanded two boys between the ages of 6 and 8.
Poland held Dykes at the front of the bus while 21 children escaped out the back. He was hit with as many as four bullets from a 9mm pistol.
With Poland down, Dykes grabbed two children, the police said. One escaped. Ethan may have frozen or fainted, allowing Dykes to take him from the bus.
Dykes was known in the neighborhood as a menacing figure who neighbors said 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.
Material from The New York Times is included in this report.