The standoff in Midland City between multiple law enforcement agencies and a man suspected of boarding a school bus, shooting and killing the driver and taking a student hostage is over, according to news reports. An explosion occurred Monday at a make-shift bunker, and the child has been reportedly rescued and was taken to a hospital but appeared "OK."
CNN and other media outlets reported that a loud explosion was followed by gunfire in or near the underground shelter where suspect Jimmy Lee Dykes had held a 5-year-old student hostage since the afternoon of Jan. 29. An FBI spokesman told CNN that officers raided the bunker when negotiations with Dykes had broken down and he was observed with a gun. The boy, referred to in the report as "Ethan," was rescued and was reported to be in good condition. Further details of the rescue and killing of Dykes are recounted here.
Over the weekend, a memorial service and funeral was held for Charles Albert Poland, Jr., the school bus driver who was allegedly shot multiple times by Dykes after boarding the school bus.
Rachel David of the nearby Dothan Police department said Poland, 66, died from gunshot wounds received on the school bus Tuesday when he refused to adhere to the demands of Jimmy Lee Dykes, who lived next to the bus stop, to take a child. CNN earlier reported that a girl on the bus said the Dykes ordered all the children off the bus except the boy and then shot Poland four times before fleeing, but other reports from local news stations said Poland was shot three times.
The Dale County Board of Education said Poland was memorialized on Saturday buried the following day. Flowers are being accepted or donations can be made to the Autism Society. Meanwhile, the school district announced that classes would resume tomorrow.
Eyewitnesses on the scene said the hostage is a 5-year-old boy with autism but had his medicine, and that Dykes took the child who had fainted during the ordeal and fled to a nearby storm shelter on his property. Both he and the boy remained until Monday afternoon at approximately 3:12 local time as law enforcement continued negotiations for the boy's release and Dyke's surrender. Additionally, according to eyewitnesses, Dykes is a distraught Vietnam veteran who had been planning the crime for some time in an effort to publicize his story. Dykes, reportedly a 65-year-old retired truck driver, was also originally due in court on Wednesday on charges he shot at neighbors last month during a dispute on the dirt road that separated their properties.
Sgt. David said that calls came into the Dale County Sheriff's Office Tuesday afternoon at approximately 3:45 p.m. local time on Jan. 29 regarding a shooting involving a Dale County Board of Education school bus. Multiple law enforcement agencies responded to the scene, and David said Poland was confirmed shot but that the alleged shooter was not yet in custody.
David added that Poland, pictured below, had been employed with Dale County as a bus driver since 2009. The Dale County Board of Education and Sheriff's Department extended their deepest condolences to Poland's family.
Donny Bynum, superintendent of Dale County Schools, called Poland a hero "who gave his life to protect the 21 students who are now home safely with their families." Local News 4 reported that Poland had attempted to throw the bus in reverse as Dykes attempted to board the bus while demanding he be given an 6- to 8-year-old child.
"Mr. Poland was well loved by all of us here at Dale County Schools and has been a bus driver for the school system for the past four years," Bynum added in a statement. "Prior to his full-time employment, he was a substitute driver. He was a valuable member of our transportation department, and we will forever remember him for the bravery he showed yesterday."
All Dale County and Ozark schools remained closed through Monday, and students were receiving support services and have access to grief counselors.
"Now our thoughts and efforts are with our children. Their well-being is our number one concern," he continued. "The authorities, the Midland City Police Department, the Dale County Sherriff's Department, ABI, FBI, Homeland Security, and other surrounding city and county agencies, responded immediately to this situation and are doing everything within their powers to see to the safe release of this 6-year-old kindergarten student."
In a statement released last week by Dr. Tommy Bice, Alabama State Superintendent of Education, he said: “First and foremost, we want to convey our deepest regrets to the family of the slain bus driver and, at the same time, prepare for the anticipated, safe rescue of our abducted student. We will continue to work collaboratively with local and state law enforcement agencies in this ongoing investigation.
“We will, at the appropriate time, complete an analysis of the facts. At this time, our number one focus is the safe return of our student to his parents and to honor the life of our fallen colleague.”
Bice added that he visited Dale County to meet with local school personnel.
The initial police statement on Jan. 29 read that all Dale County and Ozark City schools would be closed on Wednesday and that local residents in the immediate area had been evacuated from their homes. The latest update the following morning included information that law enforcement had extended the evacuation area around the scene.
Additional police statements released at 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. local time on Jan. 26 provided no further details "due to the sensitive nature of the open and ongoing incident." But multiple news agencies reported that the suspect allegedly opened after the bus driver refused to allow child off the bus. According to USA Today, the suspect then ran off with the 6-year-old child to an area behind a church, where he barricaded himself and the child. CBS News reported the barricade was a "storm shelter" inside or near a house, where the standoff with police ensued.
Law enforcement personnel had surrounded the area and were in hostage negotiations with the suspect. Sgt. David confirmed that a child was on the scene and involved in the incident. The FBI had also reportedly been called in to assist. As of 6:30 a.m. local time, Lightsey told STN that there had been no change in the situation.
Midland City is located in the southeast corner of Alabama, about half way between Montgomery and Tallahassee, Fla. Student transportation is provided by the Dale County Board of Education.
The murder of the school bus driver Poland was the second such case in the line of duty in the past eight years. Joyce Gregory, an employee of Stewart County Schools in Tennessee, was shot and killed behind the wheel in March 2005 by then 14-year-old student Jason Clinard. Clinard was arrested, tried and convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced in 2007 to life in prison. He is not eligible for parole until 2058. Editor's note — Read a related Top Story on how the Alabama incident brought memories back to the former employer of Gregory.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Danny Tindell