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February 6, 2013

FBI: Ala. man was in 'firefight’ with SWAT agents

MIDLAND CITY, Ala. — The Alabama man who held a 5-year-old boy captive for nearly a week engaged in a firefight with SWAT agents storming his underground bunker before he was killed during the rescue operation, the FBI said Tuesday night. Also, bomb technicians scouring his rural property found two explosive devices, one in the bunker, one in a plastic pipe that negotiators used to communicate with the man.

Officers killed 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes Monday, said an official in Midland City, speaking on condition of anonymity. The bunker raid came six days after Dykes boarded a school bus, fatally shot the driver and abducted the boy, who by all accounts was unharmed.

Dykes “reinforced the bunker against any attempted entry by law enforcement,” FBI Special Agent Jason Pack said in an email. The devices found were “disrupted,” Pack said, though he did not say whether that meant they were detonated or disarmed. Officers will continue Wednesday to sweep the 100-acre property and, when they finish, investigators can more thoroughly investigate, Pack said.

For days, officers passed food, medicine, toys and other items into the bunker, which was similar to a tornado shelter and apparently had running water, heat and cable television.

On Monday, authorities said, Dykes had a gun and appeared increasingly agitated, though it’s unclear exactly how his behavior changed. Negotiations — the details of which have not been made public — were deteriorating. The Midland City official said law enforcement agents had been viewing Dykes with some sort of camera, which is how they saw that he had a gun.

Pack declined to get into specifics, but confirmed that high-tech surveillance equipment was used during the police standoff.

Agents stormed the bunker, whisking the boy to safety and leaving Dykes dead. The official who confirmed that officers had killed Dykes and the use of the camera cited discussions with law enforcement and requested anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.

Neighbors said they heard what sounded like explosions and gunshots, though the FBI and local authorities didn’t say how many shots were fired and by whom.

No officers or agents were injured, Pack said.

The 5-year-old boy also appeared to be doing well at a hospital in nearby Dothan, acting like a normal kid. He was running around, playing with a toy dinosaur and other action figures, eating a turkey sandwich and watching “SpongeBob SquarePants,” relatives and Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson said.

“We know he’s OK physically, but we don’t know how he is mentally,” Betty Jean Ransbottom, the boy’s grandmother, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. She added that she feared the ordeal would stay with the child, who turns 6 on today, the rest of his life.

An FBI agent had been staying with the family, and relatives learned of the child’s rescue after another agent at the scene called the person who was with them.

The family was relieved and grateful for all the support in a community where ribbons, fliers and vigils all symbolized the prayers for the safe return of the boy, whom law enforcement officials have only identified by his first name, Ethan.

The boy’s mother, in a statement released by authorities, expressed her thanks for all the hard work of so many officers to bring her son home. The woman declined to be identified, the statement said.

“For the first time in almost a week, I woke up this morning to the most beautiful sight ... my sweet boy,” she said. “I can’t describe how incredible it is to hold him again.”

Dale County Coroner Woodrow Hilboldt said Tuesday that he had not been able to confirm exactly how Dykes died because the man’s body remained in the bunker. An autopsy was to be conducted in Montgomery once the body is taken away.

It also wasn’t clear how authorities knew Dykes was armed, or what kind of surveillance they used to track his behavior and movement.

At the request of law enforcement authorities, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta had approved the provision of certain equipment that could be employed to assist in the hostage situation, according to a U.S. official who requested anonymity to discuss a pending law enforcement matter. It is not clear whether the equipment was actually used.

In Midland City, a town of about 2,400 nestled among peanut and cotton fields, residents were relieved that the boy was safely rescued from Dykes, a Vietnam-era veteran described by neighbors as an unstable menace who beat a dog to death and threatened to shoot trespassers.

Children and teachers were trying to get back to normal, though some children who were on the bus where Dykes killed the driver on Jan. 29 have not yet returned to school, said Donny Bynum, superintendent of Midland City schools. Counselors and clergy are at the school to help any distraught students.

Officials hope to eventually throw a party to celebrate the boy’s sixth birthday and to honor the memory of Charles Albert Poland Jr., the slain bus driver. No date has been set, Bynum said.

At the hospital, the boy gave his mother a big hug. Officers gave him a teddy bear, the sheriff said.

“He’s just a bundle of joy,” Olson said.

For now, the boy’s family just wants things to go back to normal — for all the reporters to go home, for him to be like any other kid.

“He has gone through a terrible ordeal, and I don’t know if he will ever get over it,” said Debra Cook, the boy’s great aunt. “I just want him to be all right.”

———

Associated Press writer Phillip Rawls in Montgomery, Ala., and Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

 

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