Alabama hostage situation drags on for a third day

A five-year-old boy is still being held hostage in an underground bunker by a suspect wanted in the shooting of a school bus driver. Photo: rlt

DOTHAN, AL, January 31, 2013 — A violent storm blew through this area last night, followed by a sudden drop in temperature to near freezing. It seemed as if nature was trying to make a personal statement to Jimmy Lee Sykes, who is still holding a 5-year-old boy hostage in an underground bunker on his property near here.  

A few details have emerged over the past 48 hours, but the overall picture is still sketchy. We know that Sykes built the bunker himself. Some call it a tornado shelter but neighbors are convinced he built it as a survival bunker since he was anti-government and exhibited paranoia.

We know he had a history of mental problems and was often hostile to those around him. We know that he was due in court yesterday, Wednesday, on a charge of menacing a neighbor.

What we don’t know is when Sykes might release the boy, a five-year-old, autistic, kindergarten student named Ethan. The boy’s parents are on hand but have made no public statement. Ethan has been allowed to take his medicine and requested a coloring book and crayons that were somehow delivered into the bunker.

There are no details on how that was handled.

We also don’t know if the bunker has heat or insulation against the cold. It has electricity and supplies for a month and it is tiny – roughly six feet wide by seven feet long and eight feet high. Considering the amount of rain yesterday, we can only hope for the boy’s sake that the bunker is waterproof.

There was no information given about how the FBI agents and police officers fared outside through the stormy night.

The worst part of all of this for everyone is the waiting. When there is activity we have something to focus on and divert our thoughts from the horror. During down times there is little to do but conjecture what Ethan is feeling, what his parents are going through and what the officers are thinking as they prepare for another day of negotiating.

As for what Sykes himself is thinking or experiencing, that will have to be up to the experts to sort out. Right now my only thoughts about him are not something one can repeat in polite company. Please check back later today for any updates. 

(Get The Backstory and more at Rick’s author blog


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Rick Townley

Rick Townley was a bookseller before switching to electronic publishing with The New York Times, Reuters, Grolier and others. He is the author of a humor book, For Boomers Only – Exploring Life in the New Millennium, a supernatural novel, Stepping Out of Time, and numerous short stories. In addition to contributing to the Washington Times Communities, Rick is working on a fiction series called Stigma and resides in southern Alabama with his 7-year-old granddaughter, Chloe.


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