Alabama hostage stand-off ends with death of gunman

Law enforcement officials man a command centre near the scene.
Law enforcement officials man a command centre near the scene.

The hostage stand-off taking place in Alabama has ended, with the safe return of the five-year-old boy who had been taken captive and held underground for a week in a bunker.

The gunman, Jimmy Lee Dykes, has died, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Steve Richardson, the FBI special agent in charge of the operation in Midland City, said negotiations with Mr Dykes had deteriorated in the past day.

He said Mr Dykes was observed holding a gun, and the FBI feared "the child was in imminent danger".

At 3.12pm local time on Monday, FBI agents entered the bunker and rescued the child named Ethan, who was due to celebrate his sixth birthday on Wednesday.

Those at the scene reported hearing two loud bangs, possibly gun shots, before an ambulance was seen leaving the area.

"The subject [Mr Dykes] is deceased," Mr Richardson said, although he did not provide details about how Mr Dykes died. It was unclear whether he was shot by agents who stormed into the bunker.

Mr Richardson said Ethan appeared physically unharmed, and was being treated at a local hospital.

Mr Dykes, a Vietnam veteran and retired trucker, fatally shot bus driver Charles Albert Poland, 66, as he tried to protect the more than 20 children on a bus during their ride home from school.

He took one boy hostage, and kept him for seven days in a homemade bunker.

Authorities had identified the boy only as Ethan, who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.

Mr Dykes, a man who had fought in Vietnam and appeared to harbour a deep distrust of government and a grudge against every neighbour, is believed to have spent several months digging the bunker in his yard.

Neighbours said he had been known to stay in his well-equipped bunker for up to eight days. Some said they watched him build it, carrying cinder blocks and digging for hours.

The bunker was well supplied with food to last for weeks and, apparently, a television and lights.

Mr Dykes is not believed to have any connection with Ethan, who he snatched off a bus after shooting and killing the bus driver as he drove children home from school on Tuesday.

The bus stopped and Mr Dykes jumped on – according to police reports based on interviews with children who were on the bus – and then demanded two boys between the ages of six and eight.

Mr Poland, the driver, held Mr Dykes at the front of the bus while children escaped out the back. He was hit with as many as four bullets from a 9-millimetre pistol. The well-liked driver was quickly called a hero by residents.

With the driver down, Dykes grabbed two children, the police said. One escaped. Ethan may have frozen or fainted, allowing Dykes to take him swiftly from the bus.

Throughout the hostage situation, residents watched as their tiny town of Midland City – where the National Peanut Festival in nearby Dothan is usually the biggest event of the year – was constantly shown on national television.

Wires and Megan Levy

This story Alabama hostage stand-off ends with death of gunman first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.