It was initially unclear what happened in Midland City, Alabama on Monday afternoon. There were reports of an explosion, gunfire, a dead suspect and a freed hostage. Combing through reports from both local and national news outlets, though, we've been able to piece together a play-by-play account of what happened in the final moments Jimmy Lee Dykes' life and the first few moments of freedom his 5-year-old hostage, Ethan, had seen in a week. It sounds like a scene from a Bruce Willis movie, except it only lasted a few seconds.
Trouble started brewing about 24 hours before Monday's raid. "Within the past 24 hours, negotiations deteriorated and Mr. Dykes was observed holding a gun," FBI special agent Stephen Richardson told the press after the raid. Sykes had been holed up with Ethan in a makeshift tornado shelter slash bunker that Sykes built himself for six days and obviously wasn't getting anywhere with his negotiators. They'd installed a 4-inch PVC pipe through which they could send medication into the bunker and communicate with Sykes and his hostage. On Sunday, they sent through some Cheez-Its and a red Hot Wheels car. Only after the standoff was over did we learn that the Feds had also lowered a hidden camera into the bunker and "had eyes on [Sykes] the whole time."
Once they saw Sykes brandishing a gun, though, all bets were off. After all, the 66-year-old Vietnam veteran was known as "the crazy man" around town — his neighbor Ronda Wilbur, pictured above, certainly doesn't have too many nice things to say about Sykes — and was due in court on Wednesday for an earlier shooting offense. "At this point, FBI agents, fearing the child was in imminent danger, entered the bunker and rescued the child," said Richardson. From that point on, everything happened very fast. According to CBS News who talked to federal sources, they created two diversions, one of which was a flash-bang that was later reported as an explosion, before storming into the bunker from above. A nearby neighbor told the local paper that he heard the explosion followed by four or five rounds of gunfire. Authorities haven't yet said how Sykes was killed, but it seems obvious that he was shot when the Feds entered the bunker. Once Sykes had been neutralized, the agents ferried Ethan out of the bunker and into an ambulance that reported took him to a nearby hospital for observation. Ethan is autistic and presumably pretty shaken up by the whole experience.
We don't know much more beyond those basic details, though authorities say they'll reveal more in the days to come. We do know that Sykes' weeklong crime spree left one school bus driver dead and one five-year-old boy traumatized. It also cost him his life.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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