(The Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser)
MIDLAND CITY, Ala. -- Residents of this small south Alabama town between Ozark and Dothan were familiar with previous strange behavior by the man who shot a bus driver Tuesday before abducting a 5-year-old autistic boy and holding him in his underground bunker.
Eben Rummell said Jimmy Lee Dykes, who is still holding the boy within the bunker in a standoff that entered its third day, was known as "The Shovel Man" because he would chase people and animals off his property with a shovel if they got too close.
Another resident said that Dykes shot at the man's son with a pellet gun two years ago for riding a four-wheeler near his property.
The man said that he confronted Dykes, and Dykes replied he should be glad that he hadn't used a real gun.
On Thursday, authorities said they believe the kidnapped boy is fine. Otherwise, updates from law enforcement were scarce. Authorities seemed to be approaching the situation with caution.
A neighbor said Dykes has holed up in the bunker by himself for as long as eight days at a time.
James Arrington, police chief of nearby Pinckard, said the bunker is four feet underground, is about 6 feet by 8 feet and has a 60-foot long PVC pipe coming out of it. Dykes built the bunker himself, Arrington added.
Meanwhile, there has been nothing but praise for the bus driver, 66-year-old Charles Poland, who was shot as he tried to stop Dykes as he boarded the bus. Poland later died from the injuries.
One woman became emotional as she talked about the attachment Poland had for the children who rode his bus.
"You see that with women bus drivers sometimes, but not with men. He just really loved those children. He was protective of them," said the woman, who didn't want her name used because she works in the school system and had been asked not to talk about it.
Rummell, owner of Double Barrel Performance repair shop, said he regularly walks by Dykes' house with his two daughters, who are 8 and 10, and the thought of that chills him now.
"That could have been one of my kids he grabbed," said Rummell, who has lived in Midland City for most of 33 years.
Dykes' property is in Pinckard's police jurisdiction, although the property has a Midland City address. Residents said the area is actually in between the cities and unincorporated.
Pinckard Mayor Fred McNab said he's been mayor for 33 years and never would have thought something like this would happen in the small town.
McNab and Arrington handed out copies of a letter to media members Thursday containing an official statement reading, in part, "Please continue to pray for everyone involved and for the many surrounding communities."
Elaine Bennett, owner of Marshall's Sandwich Shop in downtown Midland City, said the standoff is all her customers have been talking about.
"It is pretty much the topic of conversation," said Bennett, who has operated the lunch shop since 1980.
Bennett said that she is not familiar with any of the people involved but is hoping, along with everyone else in the close-knit town, that the child will emerge from the bunker safe, and soon.
She said she wonders, however, how long the standoff might drag on given Dykes' instability.
Dykes reportedly has been making unreasonable demands, and law enforcement officials appear unlikely to force his hand for fear of putting the boy's life in danger.
"It seems like a hopeless situation," Bennett said.