MIDLAND CITY, ALA.: Police, SWAT teams and negotiators surrounded a rural property where a man was believed to be holed up in an underground shelter Wednesday after fatally shooting the driver of a school bus and fleeing with a 6-year-old child passenger.
The standoff went through the night after a gunman boarded a stopped school bus in the small town of Midland City on Tuesday afternoon. Dale County Sheriff Wally Olsen said the man shot the driver when he refused to let the child off the bus. The shooter took the child away and the driver died of multiple gunshots.
Investigators have not released the suspect’s name. Neighbors said the property surrounded by police belonged to Jimmy Lee Dykes.
Court records showed Dykes, 65, had been scheduled to appear in court Wednesday morning to face a charge of menacing some neighbors as they drove by his house last month. The neighbors said he yelled and fired shots over damage he claimed their pickup truck did to a make-shift speed bump in the dirt road.
The sheriff’s office named the victim as Charles Albert Poland, Jr., 66, who had been a bus driver since 2009 for the Dale County Board of Education.
Dale County Schools Superintendent Donny Bynum said Poland was a hero who gave his life to protect 21 students. He said authorities including the FBI “are doing everything within their powers to see to the safe release of this six year-old Kindergarten student.”
“Emotions are high, and it’s a struggle for us all to make sense of something so senseless, but let us keep this young student, his family, and Mr. Poland’s family in our thoughts and prayers,” Bynum said in a statement.
About 50 vehicles from federal, state and local agencies were clustered early Wednesday at the mouth of a dirt road off a U.S. highway. The dead-end road leads to homes including the suspect’s property, which was over a low rise behind a church on the highway and couldn’t be seen from where reporters were being kept back.
County coroner Woodrow Hilboldt told The Associated Press the suspect was believed to be in an underground shelter on his property.
“That’s what has been described to me as an underground bunker. Someplace to get out of the way of a tornado,” Hilboldt said.
Court records show Dykes, 65, was arrested Dec. 22 on a charge of menacing. He was freed on bond and due in court Wednesday morning for a non-jury trial.
Neighbor Claudia Davis, 54, said Dykes yelled and fired shots at her, her 20-year-old son and the son’s 5-month-old baby when they were passing in their pickup truck. She said Dykes was angry because her son’s truck had earlier damaged a make-shift speed bump Dykes built on the road in front of his house. No one was injured, but that led to a police investigation and the court date, Davis said.
“Before this happened I would see him at several places and he would just stare a hole through me,” Davis said. “On Monday I saw him at a laundry mat and he seen me when I was getting in my truck and he just stared and stared and stared at me.”
Midland City police would not comment, and a dispatcher at the Dale City Sheriff’s office told The Associated Press early Wednesday that the agency was not releasing any immediate details.
“Authorities also confirmed the presence of a child at the scene but are giving no further information at this time,” Rachel David, a spokeswoman for the police department in the nearby city of Dothan, said in a news release late Tuesday.
Michael Creel, who lives on the road where the shooting happened, said he went outside after his sister heard gunshots.
“Me and her started running down the road,” Creel told the Dothan Eagle. “That’s when I realized the bus had its siren going off. Kids were filing out, running down the hill toward the church.”