MIDLAND CITY, Ala. — As an Alabama standoff and hostage drama marked a sixth day Sunday, 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 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 Sunday.
Dykes, described as a loner who railed against the government, lives up a dirt road outside this hamlet north of Dothan in the southeastern corner of the state. His home is just off the main road north to the state capital of Montgomery, about 80 miles away.
The FBI said Sunday 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 on Sunday, more than 500 people gathered in the Civic Center to honor Poland.
‘He’s against the government, starting with Obama on down.’
Poland is now ‘‘an angel who is watching over’’ the little boy, said Dale County School Superintendent Donny Bynum, who read letters written by three students who had ridden on Poland’s bus. ‘‘You didn’t deserve to die but you died knowing you kept everyone safe,’’ one child wrote.
Dykes grew up in the Dothan area. Mel Adams, a Midland City Council member said he has known Dykes since they were ages 3 and 4. He said Dykes has a sister and a brother but he is estranged from his family. Adams said he did not know what caused the rift.
A neighbor, Michael Creel, said Dykes kept to himself and listened to a lot of conservative talk radio. ‘‘He was very into what’s going on with the nation and the politics and all the laws being made. The things he didn’t agree with, he would ventilate,’’ he said.
James Arrington, police chief of the neighboring town of Pinckard, put it differently. ‘‘He’s against the government, starting with Obama on down,’’ he said.
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.
Adams said that he, too, is a Vietnam veteran but that he never was close to Dykes. Adams said he recalls last seeing Dykes in the 1980s, when he drove a truck for a company that laundered uniforms.
At some point after his time in the Navy, Dykes lived in Florida, where he was a surveyor and a truck driver. It is unclear how long he stayed there.
He returned to Alabama about two years ago, moving onto the rural tract 100 yards from his nearest neighbors, Michael Creel and his father, Greg.
Neighbors said Dykes once beat a dog to death with a lead pipe, threatened to shoot kids 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.
Next to the container is the underground bunker where officials say Dykes is holed up with the 5-year-old. Neighbors say the bunker has a pipe so Dykes could hear people coming near his driveway. Officials 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.