Rescuing the Boy in the Bunker

It was something that should never have happened in a place like Midland City, Alabama.

On January 29, 2013, a 65-year-old Vietnam War veteran named Jimmy Lee Dykes approached a school bus as it was dropping off students after school.   Dykes boarded the bus and ordered the driver, 66-year-old Charles Albert Poland Junior, to choose two boys to be taken hostage.   Poland actually knew Dykes and hadn't thought anything about his boarding the bus until he made his bizarre demand.   Along with some zip-ties that Poland was expected to use on the two hostages, Dykes also had a gun which he then used to threaten the driver's life.   Poland managed to partially block the bus aisle to protect the students on the bus.   After a brief argument, Jimmy Lee Dykes shot and killed the driver.   

Dykes then grabbed five-year-old Ethan Gilman, apparently at random, and carried him off the bus.   The other students had to pass by the bus driver's corpse to exit the bus and one of them, a fifteen-year-old boy, managed to call 911. As for Dykes, he carried Ethan Gilman to a 6 foot by 8 foot underground bunker that was located on his property.   Dykes had rigged the bunker with explosives and supplies with only a narrow pipe for ventilation.   He then phoned 911 and told police that he had taken a hostage.

What followed was one of the most harrowing hostage crises in recent U.S. history as police negotiated with Dykes for Ethan's safe release.  Following the instructions Dykes had provided for communicating with him, police used the ventilation pipe to relay messages.   Over the next six days, hostage negotiators attempted to keep Dykes from detonating the explosives believed to bein the bunker as well as providing food, a coloring book and crayons for Ethan, as well as his medication  (Ethan suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and borderline autism).   They also had to deal with many of Dykes' bizarre demands, including his request for a local female reporter to be allowed into the bunker so he could commit suicide on live television.   

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.



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