Alabama Hostage Standoff: Jimmy Lee Dykes Seized Boy to Gain Attention

The man who took Ethan hostage and engaged the FBI in a standoff wanted to get on TV, sources tell Michael Daly.

What 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes wanted when he took his young hostage was to get on national TV and demonstrate to everybody that he was as important as he imagined himself to be.

“He’s a guy who’s a nobody who doesn’t feel that way about himself,” a source with intimate knowledge of the case says. “Grandiosity.”

The source surmises that Dykes saw all the media attention generated by the Newtown massacre and decided that school kids and guns were just the way for him to get a lot of attention.

“He figured if he wanted to get on national news, kidnapping a kid off a school bus was going to give him a platform,” the source says.

Dykes apparently planned to take two kids hostage from the school bus in rural Alabama on January 29, but they bolted out the back door as the driver confronted him. Dykes shot the heroic driver to death and was able to grab only a 5-year-old named Ethan.

Dykes then took the boy to a 6-by-8-foot tornado shelter on his nearby property. FBI hostage negotiators were soon on the scene and communicated with Dykes through a narrow PVC ventilation pipe that ran down into what would be called his bunker.

“They start negotiating, the first thing he says, ‘I want a TV reporter and camera down here and broadcast live on the news,’” the source says. “He wanted to go on TV and rail against the government and taxes.”

Among the ironclad rules of hostage negotiating are that you never introduce a new hostage into a situation and you never trade one hostage for another.

“Hostages only come out, they don’t go in,” the source notes.

The FBI kept Dykes talking, and proposed providing him equipment with which he could videotape his own statement. The child suffers from Asperger's syndrome and ADHD, and Dykes agreed to accept some medication for him in the meantime, delivered through the PVC pipe along with some crayons and a coloring book.

At the same time, other agents were assembling a profile of Dykes. They learned he had patrolled the perimeter of his property at night with a gun and a flashlight as if anybody would bother trespassing.

“Nobody paid him any mind,” the source says.

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He had beaten a neighbor’s dog to death with an iron pipe because it strayed onto his land. He had built his own speed bump on the road to keep people from driving too fast. He had previously resided in Florida, where he had been arrested for brandishing a gun. All of it seemed to add up to one desire that had reached its ultimate expression in this standoff and that the source summarizes as, “Hey, notice me! I’m in control. I’m the boss!”

At the same time, the FBI managed to introduce a camera and a listening device into the shelter through what the source describes only as “covert means.” The agents in the FBI command vehicle were able to monitor Dykes in the shelter as they kept talking to him. He seemed to be treating the boy reasonably well, and remained generally coherent within the confines of his craziness, so the FBI decided to keep talking to on through Saturday.

“He’s caring pretty well for the kid,” the source says. “The negotiations were going pretty well. Different ways to get equipment in, get his message recorded, get on TV so he can see it.”

But as Saturday turned to Sunday, the agents noted that Dykes had stopped the periodic naps they had observed him taking. He began making less and less sense, talking in circles, giving answers that were out of context with the questions.

“More fatigued, more unglued,” the source says.

The agents were all the more alarmed because they had also observed through the covert video that Dykes had at least two improvised pipe bombs.

As Sunday turned to Monday, the situation became only worse. They agents reached a decision around noon.

“We’re going to keep talking, but we're going to go tactical,” the source says.

Throughout the days of talking, the FBI had been studying ways to go in, if that became the best option. They considered tunneling in from the side or maybe creating an entry hole by placing a shaped charge on the shelter roof.

And all the while the FBI Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) had been rehearsing what the source calls Plan A, going in through the hatch that was the one existing entry. The HRT had in recent years been working extensively with Navy SEALs and Delta operators on classified operations. They now prepared for what had been the unit's original mission, to rescue hostages.

To that end, they built a plywood mock-up of the shelter, just as the SEALs had built a mock-up of Osama bin Laden’s lair. Only, this would be more delicate because there was a hostage. Agents role-played Dykes and the boy as the teams rehearsed exactly what they would do in every conceivable scenario.

Back at the scene, the agents had been delivering supplies and other items to Dykes that were too big to fit down the pipe. The agents would leave the item by the hatch and Dykes would reach up and pull it down.

On Monday afternoon, the agents arranged to leave some equipment they said would allow Dykes to record his message. A number of HRT agents had secreted themselves around the hatch and listened through their earpieces as the agents in the command vehicle monitoring the video feed from the bunker narrated exactly where the child was and precisely what Dykes was doing.

Dykes was by the ladder.

He had climbed one rung.

He had climbed another rung.

And another.

He was unlocking the hatch.

When the hatch rose, the HRT team was ready to toss in two stun grenades and rush the hatch before it closed. Dykes may have fired one shot before the agents killed him. The bomb squad came in behind them to disarm the devices.

The boy was safe. The Hostage Rescue Team had done exactly that.

“The Alabama job brings them back to what their name is all about,” the source says.