Joe Songer/al.com/Associated Press
Joe Songer/al.com/Associated Press
MIDLAND CITY, Ala. – The grandmother of a 5-year-old held hostage for a week in an underground bunker said Tuesday the boy is OK physically, but she fears the ordeal could stay with him the rest of his life.
Betty Jean Ransbottom told The Associated Press that she cried herself to sleep every night while the boy was being held hostage, and that she didn’t sleep much while she awaited news.
“It was horrible. I never went through anything so horrible,” she said.
Ransbottom said the boy seemed fine in the hospital on Monday after his rescue, but the family isn’t sure yet how he is doing mentally.
She said an FBI agent stayed with the family the entire time the boy was being held hostage, but officials are not giving the family much information because of the ongoing investigation. They learned of his rescue when an FBI agent at the scene called the agent staying with the family.
Debra Cook, Ransbottom’s sister, said the family was grateful for the community’s prayers and support. Fliers around town asked people to pray for the boy, and others gathered at nightly vigils to pray for his safe return.
“He has gone through a terrible ordeal, and I don’t know if he will ever get over it,” Cook told the AP. “I just want him to be all right.”
Earlier Tuesday, Cook had told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the boy was happy and playing with toys, including a dinosaur.
The boy was abducted from a school bus last week after 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes shot the driver and took the child back to a bunker on his property. Authorities raided the shelter after determining Dykes had a gun, saying he appeared to be increasingly agitated and that negotiations had deteriorated.
School officials said at a news conference Tuesday that they planned to have a party to celebrate the boy’s birthday, which is Wednesday, though they had not yet set a date for the party. The celebration, likely at the high school football field, would also honor the memory of Charles Albert Poland Jr., the bus driver credited as a hero for his actions to keep nearly two dozen other children on the bus safe.
Principal Phillip Parker said his colleagues were eagerly awaiting the boy’s return, though he did not know when that would be.
“We’d love to have him back tomorrow,” he said.
Parker stands at the entrance to the school every day as the children arrive, and described the boy as a friendly, energetic child who comes up, shakes his hand and then continues on into the school as if he’s in a hurry.
After FBI agents determined that talks with an increasingly agitated Dykes were breaking down, they stormed the shelter Monday afternoon and freed the kindergartner. The 65-year-old armed captor was killed by law enforcement agents, an official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.
Dale County Coroner Woodrow Hilboldt said Tuesday that officials had not yet removed Dykes’ body from the underground shelter. Hilboldt said he does not know how Dykes died because he has not yet examined the body. Hilboldt said the body will be taken to Montgomery for an autopsy, though he did not know exactly when that may happen.
Meanwhile, federal authorities were tight-lipped about specifics of how they ended the standoff.
Neighbors said they heard a bang and gunshots, but the FBI wouldn’t confirm that. Authorities also kept under wraps exactly how they were able to monitor Dykes and the boy in such a confined space.
“We have a big crime scene behind us to process,” said FBI agent Steve Richardson of the agency’s office in Mobile. “I can’t talk about sources, techniques or methods that we used. But I can tell you the success story is (the boy) is safe.”
Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson said Dykes was armed when officers entered the bunker. He added the boy was threatened, but declined to elaborate.
It was not immediately clear how authorities determined the man had a gun.
The boy was reunited with his mother and taken to a hospital to be checked out. Officials have said he has Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The rescue capped a hostage drama that disrupted the lives of many in a tranquil town of 2,400 people set amid peanut farms and cotton fields some 100 miles southeast of the state capital of Montgomery.
While a town anxiously waited for days, authorities had been speaking with Dykes though a plastic pipe that led into the bunker. The shelter was about 4 feet underground, with about 50 square feet of floor space, built like the tornado shelters frequently found in the South.
Authorities sent food, medicine and other items into the bunker, which apparently had running water, heat and cable television but no toilet.
The standoff unfolded just a few hundred yards from U.S. 231, a busy four-lane highway where both sides of the road were lined with law enforcement vehicles from local, state and federal authorities.
When it was over, one acquaintance, Roger Arnold, commented: “He always said he’d never be taken alive. I knew he’d never come out of there.”
On Tuesday, FBI bomb technicians were to continue scouring the property for any explosive devices as officials prepared to collect evidence and more thoroughly study the site, said FBI special agent Jason Pack.
Authorities have not said whether they had determined the property had been rigged with any explosives.
Asked about local disclosures that Dykes had been killed by law enforcement officers, Pack responded in an email early Tuesday: “The facts surrounding the incident will be established by a shooting review team” from Washington in coming days.
At the request of law enforcement authorities, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta had approved the provision of certain equipment that could be employed to assist in the hostage situation, according to a U.S. official who requested anonymity to discuss a pending law enforcement matter. It is not clear whether the equipment was actually used.
Neighbors described Dykes as a nuisance who 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.
Government records and interviews with neighbors indicate that Dykes joined the Navy in Midland City and served 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.
He had some scrapes with the law in Florida, including a 1995 arrest for improper exhibition of a weapon. The misdemeanor was dismissed. He also was arrested for marijuana possession in 2000.
He returned to Alabama about two years ago, moving onto the rural tract about 100 yards from his nearest neighbors.
Ronda Wilbur, a neighbor of Dykes who said the man beat her dog to death last year with a pipe, expressed relief like other neighbors who described the suspect as volatile and threatening.
“The nightmare is over,” Wilbur said.
Associated Press writers Tamara Lush in Midland City and Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.