MIDLAND CITY, Ala. (AP) — After four anxious days, only the slimmest of details has come to light in a police standoff with an Alabama man who is accused of holding a 5-year-old boy hostage in a bunker, a sign of just how delicate the negotiations are.
Police have used a ventilation pipe to the underground 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. And authorities waited until Friday — four days after the siege began — to confirm what was widely known in this age of instant communication: The man accused of killing a school bus driver and abducting the boy Tuesday was 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes, a Vietnam-era veteran who was known to neighbors as a menacing figure.
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.
Former hostage negotiators said authorities must be cautious and patient as long as they are confident that the boy is unharmed. Ex-FBI hostage negotiator Clint Van Zandt advised 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, he said.
"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.'"
Police seemed to be following that pattern. At a brief news conference to release a photo of Dykes, they brushed off any questions about possible charges.
"It's way too early for that," said Kevin Cook, a spokesman for the Alabama state troopers.
The shelter is about 4 feet underground, with about 6-by-8 feet of floor space and there is a PVC pipe that negotiators were speaking through.
One of Dykes' next-door neighbors said he spent two or three months constructing the bunker, digging several feet into the ground and then building a structure of lumber and plywood, which he covered with sand and dirt.
Neighbor Michael Creel said Dykes put the plastic pipe underground from the bunker to the end of his driveway so he can hear if anyone drives up to his gate. When Dykes finished the shelter a year or so ago, he in 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 a chance 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."
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."
State Rep. Steve Clouse, who represents the Midland City 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.