A child being held hostage in a bunker buried beneath the red dirt of rural Alabama will turn 6 this week, even as his neighbors and friends hope the birthday celebration will take place somewhere other than in the small cell where he has been kept prisoner since last week.
The standoff between police and an elderly military veteran who kidnapped the boy off a school bus after shooting the driver to death, continued on Monday, the seventh day that the gunman and the boy have been in six-by-eight-foot bunker, buried at least four feet below the surface. The gunman has been identified as Jimmy Lee Dykes, 65, reportedly a Navy veteran from the Vietnam War era.
The boy has only been identified as Ethan, whose birthday is Wednesday. A Facebook post said the birthday greetings should be sent to “Cards for Ethan,” or in care of Lt. April McDaniel in Napier Field Town Hall, 400 Headquarters St., Napier Field, AL 36303.
Ethan "is hanging in there,” Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson said at a nationally televised news conference on Monday.
PHOTOS: Hostage situation in Alabama bunker
“I had an opportunity to see my family,” Olson said, recounting a conversation he had with his wife. “I told her we are doing everything humanly possible to resolve this safely and bring this child home.”
As he has throughout the standoff, Olson would not discuss the specifics of negotiations with Dykes, who has been accused by neighbors of being surly and dangerous, firing into a truck where one family was sitting and of beating a dog to death when it trespassed. Dykes was facing a trial on menacing charges last Wednesday, a day after he allegedly attacked the school bus.
I can “say generally that based on discussions with Mr. Dykes that he feels like he has a story that is important to him. It is very complex,” the sheriff told reporters.
Olson said officials continue to send “food, medication and comfort items,” down to Dykes and Ethan through a 4-inch-wide PVC pipe and have kept a communication line open. Over the weekend, officials said they sent in coloring books and toys, like a red Hot Wheels car. Cheez-It crackers have also been sent in as has medication for Ethan, who has been described by neighbors as having autism.
Midland City is about 90 miles from the state capital of Montgomery. It is a small town of about 2,300 people, many of whom have attended daily prayer vigils, said Mayor Virgil Skipper.
“This has drawn a lot of people closer to Christ,” Skipper told reporters over the weekend. “When you get something like this, it always changes things.”
Fliers imploring people to pray for Ethan dot the chain-link fence outside the Midland City Elementary School, where Ethan is in kindergarten. The fence also has black, white, and red ribbons.
Killed in the Tuesday attack was school bus driver Charles Poland Jr., 66, who was buried on Sunday. More than 500 people filed into the Civic Center in nearby Ozark to pay their respects to Poland who has been hailed as a hero for protecting the more than 20 students on the vehicle.
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