Alabama Hostage Safe After FBI Kills Kidnapper with Help of Military Drone

A 5-year-old Alabama boy is safe after authorities killed his kidnapper.

NYT (“Boy, 5, Is Safe After Alabama Hostage Standoff“):

An armed man who had been holding a 5-year-old boy hostage in an underground bunker is dead and the boy has been released unharmed, ending a six-day standoff, law enforcement authorities said on Monday.

Stephen E. Richardson, a special agent with the F.B.I., said that the child, identified only as Ethan, was rescued here at about 3:12 p.m. The authorities said that Jimmy Lee Dykes, 65, a Vietnam veteran with a deep distrust of the government, fatally shot a school bus driver last Tuesday before grabbing the boy and taking him to the bunker, which he built in his yard.

For days, law enforcement officers tried to negotiate a peaceful end to the standoff, but refused to discuss details of negotiations, except to suggest that the boy, who they said has a form of autism, was safe.

“Within the past 24 hours, negotiations deteriorated and Mr. Dykes was observed holding a gun,” Mr. Richardson said. “At this point, F.B.I. agents, fearing the child was in imminent danger, entered the bunker and rescued the child.”

LAT (“Report: FBI was watching bunker hostage-taker the whole time“):

Federal Bureau of Investigation negotiators were watching Jimmy Lee Dykes, 65, “the whole time” as they prepared to enter the bunker where Dykes was holding a 5-year-old boy hostage, CBS News reported in its Monday evening broadcast.

Officials rescued the boy, named Ethan, early Monday evening in a surprise raid that left Dykes dead, ending a nearly weeklong standoff that began after Dykes boarded a bus and killed a bus driver before taking the boy to his underground bunker.

Citing unnamed federal sources, CBS News reported that the FBI rescue team created two diversions to distract Dykes before they entered the bunker from the top.

Officials said at a news conference that negotiations had deteriorated over the past 24 hours and that they had seen Dykes with a gun inside the bunker.

“At this point, FBI agents, fearing the child was in imminent danger, entered the bunker and rescued the child,” Stephen E. Richardson, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s office in Mobile, Ala., said at a nationally televised news conference.

Officials did not go into further detail at the news conference, promising more information soon.

CBS News reported that officials had lowered a camera into the Dykes’ bunker and “had eyes on him the whole time.”

ABC News (“Alabama Hostage Standoff Ends: Jimmy Lee Dykes Dead, Child Safe After Secret Surveillance“) adds:

“Mr. Dykes was observed holding a gun,” Richardson said. “At this point, the FBI agents, fearing the child was in imminent danger, entered the bunker and rescued the child.”

The boy, identified only as Ethan, “appears physically unharmed” and is being treated at a hospital, authorities said.

Dykes, 65, is dead, but officials have not yet provided details on how he died.

“Right now, FBI special agent bomb technicians are in the process of clearing the property for improvised explosive devices,” the FBI said in a written statement. “When it is safe to do so, our evidence response teams, paired with state and local crime scene technicians, will process the scene.”

Various reports have surveillance drones, on loan from the Pentagon, being used to monitor the compound and provide visual information to the FBI. The boy, Ethan, turns 6 Wednesday.

UPDATE: The headline may overstate the degree to which the surveillance drone mattered. Even 12 hours after the rescue, details remain incredibly fuzzy.  Various reports contain variants of this sentence: “Surveillance drones had been flown over Dykes’ property, officials said.”  But some reports also mention that “Officials were able to insert a high-tech camera into the bunker to monitor the movements of the suspect.” So, it’s unclear what utility, if any, the drone provided.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Command and Staff College, Marine Corps University, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.


  1. A true nightmare. Thank goodness it is over.


  2. Argon says:

    I’m being a bit grumpy but I don’t see where the drone helped the agents deal with Dykes in the bunker. It was the surveillance camera dropped into the bunker that let the FBI know when to go in.

    I mean, I’m sure Post-it notes were also used in the command center but no news story is going to reference the 3M corporation in the headline. It may have been fun to bring out a new toy like the drone to see what it could do, but the perimeter was locked down and the guy was sitting in his bunker. Exactly what did flying a drone over the compound add to the situation except to provide pictures of male pattern baldness in some of the agents from a new angle?

    No, what would’ve been cool was if the camera that got into the bunker was carried by a roach-sized robot.


  3. Can I suggest changing the title? “FBI Kills Kidnapper with Help of Military Drone” makes it sound like the drone is what killed the kidnapper; a domestic law enforcement standoff being resolved by a military drone strike would be a pretty big story.


  4. Sirkowski says:

    It’s the Asperger that really killed him.


  5. Andy says:

    Well, this is a strange post. First of all, there’s no evidence presented that drones were of any “help” at all. And secondly, none of the articles you linked to mentioned drones which is strange considering your conclusion:

    Various reports have surveillance drones, on loan from the Pentagon, being used to monitor the compound and provide visual information to the FBI.


  6. john personna says:

    Not much of a bunker, then.


  7. legion says:

    I was under the impression from earlier news reports that they thought the door to the bunker was wired with explosives; I take it that proved untrue? I haven’t seen that particular detail mentioned in any of the reports of the boy’s rescue, and it seems like a fairly important one…


  8. @legion:

    They have been quite tight-lipped about the details (and I say this having watched the story daily, as it is quite local to me).


  9. bill says:

    i like a happy ending. kid’s safe, trash is dead- good job!


  10. Ken Bullard says:

    The drone technology is here. They have the capability to invade the the privacy of any home in America and there are hundreds of drones flying over the U.S.A.. They can see right into our homes. Obama is so righteous! He’s not like that mean O George Bush!!!! No he’s not!!
    Thank God the boy is free, but we have the potential to lose ourselves to a government gone wild. George Bush was ostracized for “waterboarding.” Obama just says “let’s just bypass the water boarding and just kill the terrorist. If innocent people die in the process…war is nasty!!