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Alabama bunker suspect faced court date, neighbors say

From George Howell and Tristan Smith, CNN
January 31, 2013 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The sheriff says investigators do not believe the boy has been harmed
  • NEW: "Pray, pray," he tells reporters
  • Authorities get coloring books, crayons and medicine to the captive boy, legislator says
  • A gunman is holding the 6-year-old hostage in an underground bunker

Midland City, Alabama (CNN) -- Neighbors of Jimmy Lee Dykes say he was supposed to have been in court on Wednesday, facing charges that he'd shot at them during a December argument over the dirt road that separated their properties.

Instead, he was holed up in an underground bunker dug into his yard, surrounded by sheriff's deputies, state troopers and police.

Also inside the bunker, authorities say, is a 6-year-old boy seized from a school bus at gunpoint Tuesday afternoon. The bus driver, 66-year-old Charles Poland Jr., was shot and killed, but school officials said Wednesday he saved 21 other children on board.

Authorities have not released the name of the suspected gunman. But neighbors Jimmy Davis and his mother, Claudia Davis, identified him as Dykes, as have news outlets around Midland City, about 90 miles south of Montgomery.

Bus driver shot; students 'in shock'
Charles Poland was fatally shot in Alabama Tuesday.
Charles Poland was fatally shot in Alabama Tuesday.

Investigators have communicated with the suspect through a length of PVC pipe that extends out of the bunker. They've sent down coloring books and crayons for the child, state Rep. Steve Clouse said. They've also sent prescription medicine for the boy, who suffers from Asperger's syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, he said.

The boy's family is "holding on by a thread," Clouse said. They do not know Dykes, according to Clouse, who has been speaking with the family.

Investigators are still communicating with the suspect and "have no reason to believe that the child has been harmed," Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson said Wednesday evening.

"Pray, pray," Olson told reporters.

Jimmy Davis told CNN he'd spotted the hole Dykes was digging on his property when Dykes moved in down the road from him. The 65-year-old Dykes was friendly and welcoming, and said the hole was being dug as a storm shelter.

Davis, who works a night shift, said Dykes worked on his bunker in the middle of the night -- every other night, between 2 and 3 a.m., for a year-and-a-half.

Davis was in the process of moving out in December when his truck -- hauling a trailer -- dug ruts into the dirt speed bump Dykes had built up across the road, Claudia Davis told CNN. Dykes "got mad about what he saw" and stopped their truck to complain as they returned, she said.

Jimmy Davis says Dykes was standing by the side of the road, yelling and cursing at them, as they approached. He says he tried to calm the man down, but Dykes ran to his nearby van and got a pistol. Claudia Davis said Dykes fired two shots at the truck -- which also carried her 6-month-old granddaughter -- as it sped away.

Jimmy Davis swore out a complaint related to the incident against Dykes in December. Dykes was supposed to appear in court Wednesday in nearby Ozark to face a charge of menacing, a misdemeanor that carries penalties of up to six months in jail, according to the Davises.

Tuesday's standoff began about 3:40 p.m. (4:40 p.m. ET) near a church in Midland City. Authorities have since expanded an evacuation area in an effort to protect nearby residents.

Michael Senn, a local pastor, told CNN affilliate WSFA that he spoke to several students who had been on the bus. He said a girl described the shooter getting aboard.

"He told most of them to get off the bus," Senn related. "And then he grabbed a little boy and shot the bus driver four times."

Donny Bynum, the superintendent of Dale County schools, said Poland had been a full-time bus driver for four years and was "well loved by all of us here." In a written statement Wednesday morning, he said Poland "gave his life to protect 21 students who are now home safely with their families."

"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," he said.

Mike Creel, another neighbor, said some of the children who escaped the bus recounted that the suspect initially demanded two children.

"The one child he got ahold of actually fainted," Creel told WSFA. "That was the reason he was able to grab him. And now he is hidden in his homemade bomb shelter."

CNN's Marlena Baldacci and In Session's Jessica Thill contributed to this report.

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