MIDLAND CITY, Ala. - Officers stormed an underground bunker in Alabama where a 5-year-old boy had been held hostage for nearly a week, rescuing the child and leaving the boy's abductor dead, officials said Monday.
Steve Richardson with the FBI's office in Mobile, Alabama said at a news conference Monday afternoon that negotiations had deteriorated with 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes.
Dykes, who a week earlier had abducted the child from a school bus after fatally shooting the driver, had been seen with a gun. Officers believed the boy was in imminent danger, Richardson said.
Officers stormed the bunker just after local time to rescue the child, who was taken to a hospital in nearby Dothan. Officials have said the child has Asperger's syndrome.
At a late Monday news conference, authorities declined to elaborate on how they had observed Dykes or on how he died, citing the pending investigation.
Daryle Hendry, who lives about a quarter-mile (half a kilometre) from where Dykes' bunker was located, said he heard a boom Monday afternoon, followed by what sounded like a gunshot, all around the time officials said they stormed the bunker.
Neighbours 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.
The crisis in Alabama unfolded amid a divisive nationwide debate over gun control and the safety of schoolchildren after the December shooting that killed 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school.
President Barack Obama travelled to Minnesota on Monday to rally from the public and law enforcement community for his calls to ban assault weapons and install universal background checks for gun buyers. Gun advocates remain firmly opposed to tighter laws, arguing that gun ownership is a basic right enshrined in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Government records and interviews with neighbours 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.
He had some scrapes with the law in Florida, including a 1995 arrest for improper exhibition of a weapon. The misdemeanour 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 (91 metres) from his nearest neighbours.
Ronda Wilbur, a neighbour of Dykes who said the man beat her dog to death last year with a pipe, said she was relieved to be done with the stress of knowing Dykes was patrolling his yard and willing to shoot at anyone or anything that trespassed.
"The nightmare is over. It's been a long couple of years of having constant stress," she said.
Authorities have said Dykes gunned down 66-year-old bus driver Albert Poland Jr. before taking the boy from the bus. Poland, who was buried Sunday, has been hailed as a hero for protecting the other nearly two-dozen children on board from harm.
"This man was a true hero who was willing to give up his life so others might live," Gov. Robert Bentley said in a news release Monday after learning of the boy's rescue.
Melissa Knighton, the city clerk in Midland City, said a woman had been praying in the town centre Monday afternoon. Not long after, the mayor called her with news that Dykes was dead and that the boy was safe.
"She must have had a direct line to God because shortly after she left, they heard the news," Nighton said.