MIDLAND CITY, Ala. - As a police standoff with a man accused of holding a 5-year-old boy hostage in an underground bunker in Alabama entered its fifth day, authorities were saying little except that their talks with the 65-year-old loner were continuing through a ventilation pipe.
Negotiators were still trying Saturday to persuade Jimmy Lee Dykes to surrender. Police have said they believe the Vietnam-era veteran fatally shot a school bus driver on Tuesday, and then abducted the boy from the bus and disappeared into the home-made bunker.
While police were mostly staying mum about the delicate negotiations, it fell to neighbours to fill in the blanks about Dykes, described by some as a menacing figure who held anti-government views.
One of Dykes' next-door neighbours said the suspect spent two or three months constructing the bunker, digging into the ground and then building a structure of lumber and plywood, which he covered with sand and dirt.
Neighbour Michael Creel said Dykes put the plastic pipe underground from the bunker to the end of his driveway so he could hear if anyone drove up to his gate. When Dykes finished the shelter a year or so ago, he invited Creel to see it — and he did.
"He was bragging about it. He said, 'Come check it out," Creel said.
He said he believes Dykes' goal with the standoff is to publicize his political beliefs.
"I believe he wants to rant and rave about politics and government," Creel said. "He's very concerned about his property. He doesn't want his stuff messed with."
Police have used a ventilation pipe to the bunker to talk to the man and deliver the boy medication for his emotional disorders, but they have not revealed how often they are in touch or what the conversations have been about. Authorities waited until Friday to confirm the suspect's identity.
While much of what is going on inside the bunker remains a mystery, local officials who have spoken to police or the boy's family have described a small room with food, electricity and a TV. And while the boy has his medication, an official also said he has been crying for his parents.
Meanwhile, Midland City residents held out hope that the standoff would end safely and mourned for the slain bus driver and his family. Candlelight vigils have been held nightly at a gazebo in front of City Hall. Residents prayed, sang songs such as "Amazing Grace" and nailed homemade wooden crosses on the gazebo's railings alongside signs that read: "We are praying for you."
"We're doing any little thing that helps show support for him," said 15-year-old Taylor Edwards said.
State Rep. Mike Ball of Huntsville, who spent 15 years as a hostage negotiator with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, said Saturday that the key is patiently building a relationship with Dykes.
"They want to build a relationship with him and calm down the feeling of hopelessness he has," he said. "Any day that goes by with the child alive is a victory. If you string enough of those days together, he will come out."
State Rep. Steve Clouse, who represents the area, said he visited the boy's mother and she is "hanging on by a thread." Clouse said the mother told him that the boy has Asperger's syndrome as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
Neighbors said Dykes was easily angered and 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.
Authorities said Dykes boarded a stopped school bus filled with 21 children on Tuesday afternoon and demanded two boys between 6 and 8 years old. When the driver tried to block his way, the gunman shot him several times and took the 5-year-old boy.
The bus driver, Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66, was hailed by local residents as a hero who gave his life to protect the pupils on his bus.
Dykes had been scheduled to appear in court Wednesday to answer charges he shot at his neighbours in a dispute last month over a speed bump. Neighbor Claudia Davis said he yelled and fired shots at her and her family over damage Dykes claimed their pickup truck did to a makeshift speed bump in the dirt road. No one was hurt.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington; Phillip Rawls in Midland City; Bob Johnson in Montgomery, Alabama, and AP researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.