Hostage Situation Weighs On Midland City, Alabama

fromWBHM

It's been almost a week since the first reports that a man had shot and killed a school bus driver, snatched a five-year-old boy off the bus and is holding him hostage in an underground bunker. Grief and the slow pace of negotiations with the suspect have frayed nerves in the close-knit, rural community.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It has been almost a week since a series of tragic events unfolded in Alabama. A man shot and killed a school bus driver. Then he kidnapped a five-year-old boy from the bus and took him to an underground bunker. Yesterday was the bus driver's funeral. Police say he died trying to stop the gunman.

The suspect is still holding the child he kidnapped and negotiations with him are happening at an excruciating pace. All this has frayed nerves in a close-knit rural community. Dan Carsen of member station WBHM has this story from Midland City, Alabama.

DAN CARSEN, BYLINE: Route 231, the town's main highway, splits a sea of news crews from the police command center at the mouth of a red clay road. About a dozen homes line it, but many are empty because they've been evacuated. Authorities say Jimmy Lee Dykes - a 65-year-old Navy veteran neighbors had come to fear - is holed up in his underground bunker with the boy.

Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson apologizes to the press for not sharing much information and then expresses gratitude to a murder and kidnapping suspect.

SHERIFF WALLY OLSON: I want to thank him for taking care of our child. That's very important.

CARSEN: Dykes has let the child watch TV and allowed police to pass crayons, coloring books and medication into the heated bunker though a PVC pipe. The Sheriff's tone toward Dykes hints at the situation's fragility. Dykes had been due in court on charges of shooting at neighbors.

He allegedly beat another neighbor's 120-pound arthritic dog to death with a pipe. The boy has been crying for his parents, and the situation is wearing on the entire community. Rusty Yeoman has lived here all his 49 years. His land is picturesque - dotted with cattle, chickens, and playful but protective dogs. Past the cows is Highway 231. Yeoman counted 42 police cars racing to the scene last Tuesday.

RUSTY YEOMAN: You just don't expect it here, because we've never had anything like this here. But it's going on everywhere now.

CARSEN: Bus driver Charles Albert Poland, Jr., a father and grandfather, was known around town as humble and quick to help just about anyone. Witnesses say he tried to keep Dykes from taking kids off the bus and Dykes shot him at least three times.

JAMES MAC MCCARTER: He was the best man in the world, I'll tell you what. And you saw that when he gave his live to protect the, the kids that was on that bus. He was a loving family man. And this is a very sad time for all of us.

CARSEN: That's James "Mac" McCarter, who says Poland mentored him while they were working on military helicopters in Korea in 1968. The crime that took his long-time friend shocks him.

MCCARTER: But at the same time, he was the type of person who would give his life to protect those kids, so I wasn't surprised about how it happened because of the way he'd - like as the person he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF GRILL SIZZLING)

PASTOR MELVIN WHITE: About 30 more minutes, I'm going to have it ready for you guys.

CARSEN: Speaking of helping others, Pastor Melvin White is cooking burgers, ribs and chicken for the press just because God gave him the idea, he says. I ask him what people in the area think about the ongoing ordeal.

WHITE: They want it to come to a closing, but then I feel like the officers are doing all they can and we're just going to have to keep praying.

CARSEN: We talked about everything from the situation across the road to the Newtown massacre, but White keeps his head up.

WHITE: I don't care what I see in this world happen - I still feel like there are some good people. And I feel like we shouldn't let one bad situation cause us to distrust other people.

CARSEN: People around here echo that sentiment. But they live it, too - almost reflexively. They come together, to hold hands in prayer vigils each night, to bring each other food, to bus people to the funeral of a quiet, beloved person. And to support the families affected by a dangerous man who still hasn't let a scared little boy go home. For NPR News, I'm Dan Carsen in Midland City, Alabama.

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