MIDLAND CITY, Ala. — The standoff between police and a gunman accused of holding a kindergartner hostage in an underground bunker dragged into a fourth day on Friday, as authorities sought to continue delicate conversations with the man through a pipe and worked to safely end the tense situation.
The gunman shot a school bus driver to death Tuesday, grabbed a 5-year-old boy off the bus and slipped into an underground bunker on his property in rural Alabama, police said. There were signs the standoff could go on for some time: the shelter has electricity, food, TV, and police have delivered the boy's medication through a 4-inch-wide ventilation pipe leading to the bunker.
Hostage negotiators have used the pipe to talk to the gunman, identified by neighbors as Jimmy Lee Dykes, but investigators have been tightlipped about their conversations.
Former FBI hostage negotiator Clint Van Zandt said authorities at the scene shouldn't rush to resolve the standoff as long as they are confident that the boy is unharmed. He cautioned against any drastic measures, such as cutting the electricity or putting sleep gas inside the bunker because it could agitate Dykes.
The negotiator should try to ease Dykes' anxieties over what will happen when the standoff ends, and refer to both the boy and Dykes by their first names to humanize them.
"I want to give him a reason to come out," Van Zandt said, "and my reason is, 'You didn't mean that to happen. It was unintentional. It could have happened to anyone. It was an accident. People have accidents, Jimmy Lee. It's not that big a thing. You and I can work that out.'"
The shelter was about 4 feet underground, with about 6-by-8 feet of floor space and the PVC pipe that negotiators were speaking through, said James Arrington, police chief of the neighboring town of Pinckard.
"He will have to give up sooner or later because (authorities) are not leaving," Arrington said. "It's pretty small, but he's been known to stay in there eight days."
Midland City Mayor Virgil Skipper said he has been briefed by law enforcement agents and has visited with the boy's parents.
"He's crying for his parents," he said. "They are holding up good. They are praying and asking all of us to pray with them."
Republican Rep. Steve Clouse, who represents the Midland City area, said he visited the boy's mother Thursday and that she is "hanging on by a thread."
"Everybody is praying with her for the boy," he said.
Clouse said the mother told him that the boy has Asperger's syndrome, an autism-like disorder, as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Police have been delivering medication to him through the pipe, he added.
The normally quiet red clay road leading to the bunker was teemed Friday with more than a dozen police cars and trucks, a fire truck, a helicopter, officers from multiple agencies and news media near Midland City, population 2,300.
Police vehicles have come and gone steadily for hours from the command post, a small church taken over for that use
Early Friday, activity picked up when a team in military-style uniforms, many toting weapons, got out of a big van in the pre-dawn chill and moved into a staging area. One appeared to be dog handler.
Dykes was known around the neighborhood as a menacing figure who neighbors said 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 chief confirmed that Dykes held anti-government views, as described by multiple neighbors: "He's against the government — starting with Obama on down."
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