Thursday, January 31, 2013

Ala. child hostage standoff moves beyond 30 hours; Community prays for release

http://www.tucsonnewsnow.com/story/20791656/ala-child-hostage-standoff-moves-beyond-30-hours-community-prays-for-release

Posted: Jan 29, 2013 4:00 PM Updated: Jan 31, 2013 5:12 AM

By John Shryock - bio | email

By Mark Wilder – email

 

An unidentified person prays at a vigil held at Pinckard Baptist Church Wednesday night.

 

Approximate location of bus driver death and hostage situation in southeastern Alabama.

MIDLAND CITY, AL (WSFA) -

Authorities and the suspected killer of a school bus driver and abductor of a 6-year-old kindergartner remain locked in a hostage standoff in southeastern Alabama that's spanned more than 30 hours. The child is said to be "okay", having been given access to medicine and the box of crayons and a coloring book he requested.

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  • SLIDESHOW: Midland City Child Hostage

    A collection of photos from the scene of a fatal school bus shooting and child hostage crisis in the southeastern Alabama town of Midland City.

  • The child, whose name isn't being published, has remained in an underground bunker with his captor since Tuesday afternoon when he was plucked from the school bus he was riding home. The abductor, identified as 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes, is accused of boarding the child's bus in the town of Midland City where he fatally shot the bus driver before kidnapping the boy.

    Hostage negotiators have pleaded with the suspect to hand over the child and give himself up to police. Communication with Dykes, via a PVC pipe connected to his bunker, has so far yielded no movement.

    The child is said to have a medical condition, for which authorities were successful Wednesday morning in getting medication. The situation remains "static".

    "We have no reason to believe that the child has been harmed," Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson said during a Wednesday afternoon media briefing.

    Concerned citizens attended vigils at several churches Wednesday night, lighting candles and praying for the boy's safe release.

    The surrounding community is holding its collective breath in hopes that the hostage situation will end peacefully. "Right now the whole town seems like they're just in a mourning stage," said nearby convenience store manager Carl McKenzie. Even though McKenzie doesn't know the boy, "I would go take that child's place if I could, just to get him out of danger."  

    SLAIN BUS DRIVER

    More details are emerging about the slain bus driver. The Dale County Sheriff's Department confirmed the body that was taken from the crime scene early Wednesday morning belonged to Charles Albert Poland, Jr.

    Poland had been with the Dale County Board of Education as a bus driver since 2009 and was described as a cheerful and happy man who loved his job. Mr. Poland, 66, was acting in his official duties, transporting 21 students, when he was fatally shot.

    The word "hero" is now being applied to the man who was attempting to protect his passengers. Witnesses say Poland was shot multiple times, 3 possibly 4 times, after he refused to comply with the suspect's demand that a child, or 2 children, get off the bus and come with him.

    The Poland family has asked for privacy in their time of grief.

    SUSPECT WAS SET FOR COURT HEARING

    A clearer picture of the man at the center of the standoff is also starting to come into focus. Neighbors described Dykes as being "anti-government" and "a long time concern" and expressed no surprise that he could be involved in such a situation with law enforcement.

    Court records show that Dykes was supposed to be in court Wednesday morning to face menacing charges. Being holed up in a bunker, he never made it to the courthouse.

    Dykes now appears on the radar of the Southern Poverty Law Center, or SPLC. The Montgomery-based SPLC tracks hate groups and underground organizations and says Dykes came to their attention after Tuesday's events because of anti-American beliefs they say he's shown.

    SPLC's Mark Potok said of Dykes' past that he was described as "very much standoffish and very much a loner". Dykes was virtually unknown to anyone outside his small town, until now. Potok said it wasn't clear if Dykes is connected to any anti-government group or radical group. "We just don't know," he said.

    Sources close to the investigation say Dykes is a "survivalist" or "Doomsday prepper" and his bunker is stocked with food and other items that could extend his ability to stay below ground.

    Officials can't, or won't, confirm if Dykes' hostage situation is connected to his alleged anti-American beliefs.

    Dykes is also said to be a Vietnam veteran who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

    SUSPECT TARGETS SCHOOL BUS

    The situation started around 3:40 p.m. Tuesday near the Destiny Church at the intersection of U.S. Highway 231 and Private Road 1539 in the small, southeastern Alabama town of Midland City. The Dale County town is located approximately 2-and-a-half hours from the state capital of Montgomery.

    The Dale County Sheriff's Department and a multitude of other law enforcement, including surrounding police departments, Alabama State Troopers and SWAT team converged on the community in the aftermath of the shooting and kidnapping.

    Authorities began communicating with the suspect via a PVC pipe connected to the bunker. While the child was said to be in "okay" condition, considering the circumstances, authorities remained cautious, calling it a "delicate" situation. 

    Though there's no confirmed evidence of explosive devices, a bomb squad is on scene. Everyone living in the immediate area around the scene was evacuated "as a precautionary measure" the Dale County Sheriff's Dept. said. Many residents sought other shelter overnight as Sheriff Wally Olson concluded it could be a long night.

    Three local school systems, Dale County, Daleville City and Ozark City, closed for Wednesday after news of the situation spread.

    Both north and southbound traffic on U.S. Hwy. 231 near the church were closed for hours, but authorities opened the roadway up to commuters late in the evening Tuesday.

    WITNESSES: OTHER STUDENTS WERE TRAUMATIZED

    A man who spoke with several children who were on-board the school bus said the students told him they witnessed a man step on-board where he shot the driver and took a young boy hostage.

    Michael Senn, a local minister whose church owns the building occupied by Destiny Church, though it's currently being rented by another congregation, said while he was not on the scene when the incident happened, he spoke with several of the children a short time later.

    Senn said one girl told him that the man who got on-board told most of the students to get off the bus. He then grabbed a young boy and shot the bus driver four times.

    Senn said the children who got off the bus ran toward for safety and hid behind Destiny Church. "All the kids are at a safe place," he said, though he added all of them appeared to be in shock.

    "I spoke to a young guy, 13-years-old, that was really traumatized," Senn said. The boy, who is "really good friends" with the hostage, witnessed the entire incident. "I talked with him and ministered with him and prayed with him before he left," Senn said before family came and picked him up.

    NEIGHBOR: HE RETREATED TO "HOMEMADE BOMB SHELTER"

    Mike Creel, a neighbor of Dykes, said he spoke with some of the students who were on the bus and was told that the suspect boarded the vehicle as it stopped to drop off some students. Creel said students told him the suspect was trying to take two children from the bus but only managed to leave with one.  "He was only able to get a hold of one," Creel said the other riders told him, because the child fainted and was grabbed.

    Creel said after firing on the driver, the suspect "retreated back onto his land" where "he's hidden in his homemade bomb shelter."

    Creel said he chased after the suspect. "I ran into his yard. I didn't realize that it was actually him [the neighbor] at the time..." Creel said he ran right past the suspect's house and underground bomb shelter to the edge of a field where he thought a stranger was possibly running. Creel said by the time he found out it was his neighbor, he was out of the yard and the police were arriving on scene.

    Creel said the suspect has lived on the property for around two years and, "that was one of the first things he started building."

    COMMUNITY SHOCKED

    Word of the fatal shooting and kidnapping spread through the community, and across the country quickly. Many local residents expressed shock over the situation.

    Jacey Green knew the bus driver who lost his life. "The bus driver was my teacher's husband," Green said. "I feel bad for her. I think people shouldn't be doing this to that little kid."

    "It's so disheartening," said Chelsea Cooper of Ozark. " You think, you know, things like this would be under control. You would think your children would be okay on a school bus or at a school."

    OFFICIALS REACT

    Donny Bynum, Superintendent of the Dale County School System, is asking for prayer for the student, his family and Mr. Poland's family. Poland said counseling will be available at local schools as soon as the hostage situation in resolved. He added, "This is a law enforcement issue and is being conducted as such."

    "First and foremost, we want to convey our deepest regrets to the family of the slain bus driver and at the same time, prepare for the anticipated, safe rescue of our abducted student," said Dr. Tommy Bice, State Superintendent of Education. "We will continue to work collaboratively with local and state law enforcement agencies in this ongoing investigation.

    Bice continued, "We will at the appropriate time, complete an analysis of the facts. At this time, our number one focus is the safe return of our student to his parents and to honor the life of our fallen colleague." Bice will be in Dale County Thursday to meet with local school personnel.

    Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has been notified of the situation and his office says he is closely monitoring the situation.

    U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R-Dist.2) tweeted to her followers urging patience "as law enforcement officers do their best to get to the bottom of this..." and asked her followers to "be prayerful, lifting up those affected in prayers for comfort and healing."

    State Senator Harri Anne Smith, (I-Dist. 29), asked her constituents and others to "Please pray for the families whose hearts are broken tonight in Dale County. Special prayers for the Brave Bus Drivers family who did his best to protect his children. Special prayers for "Love Bug" the five year old son of a Mother awaiting his safe return. Special prayers for the children who were on the Bus who had to witness such a horrible act."

    CONTINUING COVERAGE

    WSFA 12 News has a crew on the scene and will continue to monitor the situation. Keep checking back for additional details or follow our FACEBOOK or TWITTER reports.

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