GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

February 4, 2013

Details emerge about man at center of Alabama standoff

By Bruce Smith and Melissa Nelson-Gabriel
Associated Press

---- — MIDLAND CITY, Ala. (AP) — As an Alabama standoff and hostage drama marked a sixth day yesterday, more details emerged about the suspect at the center, with neighbors and officials painting a picture of an isolated man estranged from his family.

Authorities say Jim Lee Dykes, 65 — a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War known as Jimmy to neighbors — gunned down a school bus driver and abducted a 5-year-old boy from the bus, taking him to an underground bunker on his rural property. The driver, 66-year-old Charles Albert Poland Jr., was buried yesterday.

Dykes, described as a loner who railed against the government, lives up a dirt road outside this tiny hamlet north of Dothan in the southeastern corner of the state.

The FBI said in a statement that authorities continue to have an open line of communication with Dykes. The little boy requested Cheez-Its and red Hot Wheels cars, and both were delivered to the bunker, FBI spokesman Jason Pack said. Authorities had said they also were delivering medicine and other comfort items, and that Dykes was making the child as comfortable as possible.

In the nearby community of Ozark yesterday, more than 500 people filed into the Civic Center to pay a final tribute to Poland. Outside the funeral, school buses from several counties lined the funeral procession route. The buses had black ribbons tied to their side mirrors.

Dykes grew up in the Dothan area. Mel Adams, a Midland City Council member who owns the lot where reporters are gathered, said he has known Dykes since they were ages 3 and 4. He said Dykes has a sister and a brother, but that he is estranged from his family.

Midland City Mayor Virgil Skipper said Dykes’ sister is in a nursing home. Adams said that law enforcement officers have talked to Dykes’ family members and advised them not to speak with reporters, and that officers told his sister there was nothing she could do to help the child in the bunker.

Government records and interviews with neighbors indicate that Dykes joined the Navy in Midland City, serving on active duty from 1964 to 1969. His record shows several awards, including the Vietnam Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal. During his service, Dykes was trained in aviation maintenance.

At some point after his time in the Navy, Dykes lived in Florida, where he worked as a surveyor and a long-haul truck driver. It’s unclear how long he stayed there.

He had some scrapes with the law in Florida, including a 1995 arrest for improper exhibition of a weapon. The misdemeanor was dismissed. He also was arrested for marijuana possession in 2000.

He returned to Alabama about two years ago, moving onto the rural tract about 100 yards from his nearest neighbors, Michael Creel and his father, Greg.

Neighbors described Dykes as a man who 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. Michael Creel said Dykes had an adult daughter, but the two lost touch years ago.

His property has a white trailer that, according to Creel, Dykes said he bought from FEMA after it was used to house evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. The property also has a steel shipping container — like those on container ships — in which Dykes stores tools and supplies.

Next to the container is the underground bunker where authorities say Dykes is holed up with the 5-year-old. Authorities have been using the ventilation pipe to communicate with him.

The younger Creel, who said he helped Dykes with supplies to build the bunker and has been in it twice, said Dykes wanted protection from hurricanes.

“He said he lived in Florida and had hurricanes hit. He wanted someplace he could go down in and be safe,” Creel said. Authorities say the bunker is about 6 feet by 8 feet, and the only entrance is a trap door at the top.