The 2013 Alabama Bunker Hostage Crisis | Case Closed #5

The time a Vietnam War veteran abducted a boy from his school bus and held him hostage.

Nicole Henley
Apr 15 · 5 min read

On the afternoon of January 29, 2013, a 65-year-old Vietnam War veteran boards a school bus demanding for the driver to select two boys for him to take, thus sparking an incident that would ultimately leave two dead, a little boy getting kidnapped, and the tense hostage crisis that would ensue.

The hostage crisis began in Wiregrass Region near U.S. Highway 231 in Midland, Alabama, when, just after 3:30 p.m., Jimmy Lee Dykes boarded a Dale County school bus, demanding the bus driver to allow him to take two children, six and eight-years-old, both boys, from the bus. In response, the driver, 66-year-old Charles Albert Poland Jr., outright refused to let Dykes take any children from his school bus. Poland even went as far as blocking access to the aisle of the bus while Dykes continued arguing with him.

As this was happening, from the moment Dykes stepped onboard the bus, one of the teenagers on the bus, 15-year-old Tre’ Watts called 9–1–1 as Poland and Dykes argued. As he quietly relayed to a 9–1–1 dispatcher everything that was transpiring as they happened, the audio from which would capture not only Poland and Dykes arguing, but even the moment Dykes fired five shots at Poland, killing him. During the panic that followed, Dykes randomly grabbed a boy who was sitting at the front of the bus, five-year Ethan Gilman, and fled.

In the aftermath of the entire incident, authorities concluded that there was no pre-existing relationship between Dykes or Gilman.

After fleeing from the bus with his hostage, he took the boy to a 6-foot by 8-foot underground bunker that was on his property, of which, contained homemade bombs, and was equipped with a PVC ventilation pipe, of which authorities used to communicate with Dykes for the duration of the hostage crisis.

Furthermore, Dykes himself also called 9–1–1 and gave instructions to authorities on how to establish communication with him, and thus the PVC pipe came into play.

Throughout the crisis, hostage negotiators cooperated with Dykes in an attempt to bring the incident to the most favorable outcome possible.

The Victims/Heroes

~Charles Albert Poland Jr. — a 66-year-old bus driver who died in the incident while trying to protect the kids on his bus from Dykes, and thus remembered as a hero in this incident.

~Ethan Gilman* — Five-year-old boy who was abducted by Dykes from the school bus he was riding in after he and the other children on the bus witnessed their bus driver get killed while trying to protect them.

  • Ethan notably has Asperger’s syndrome and ADHD, and so during his time in the bunker, Dykes accepted medication for him, of which was sent through the PVC pipe along with a coloring book and crayons.
  • The remaining kids on the bus that day who witnessed their bus driver’s murder, and Ethan’s abduction.

Insane demands

Later during the incident, Dykes reportedly wanted a female reporter to broadcast him live in the bunker, after which he intended to commit suicide on live television. It was also revealed by investigators that Dykes was “training” Ethan to detonate the improvised explosive devices inside the bunker.

At 3:12 p.m. on February 4, 2013, the roof of the bunker was breached by the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team using explosive charges after negotiations with Dykes began breaking down, as well as the sight of a gun in Dykes’s hand through a hidden camera.

The agents first threw stun grenades into the bunker, followed by exchanging gunfire with Dykes. The altercation resulted in Dykes’s demise and Ethan’s rescue. Immediately afterward, Ethan got taken to the hospital and where he was reported to be in good health.

As stated in sources, two improvised explosive devices were discovered, with one found inside the PVC pipe, and the other inside the bunker.

The Perpetrator

Dykes was a decorated Vietnam War Navy veteran and officially confirmed as the gunman after the fact. Years before the incident, he lived in isolation and supposedly lost contact with his only child, an adult daughter, years before the hostage crisis. Previously, he lived in Florida, where he got arrested in 1995 for brandishing a gun. In 2000, he was arrested again for marijuana possessions charges. He then moved to Midland City, where he fatally beat a neighbor’s dog with an iron pipe after it walked onto his property, and did not want children on his property. He even went as far as building a speed bump to stop motorists from driving too fast down the street. Dykes was known to have patrolled his property at night with a shotgun and a flashlight. The day before the hostage crisis, he was due in court for a hearing in which he allegedly menaced his neighbors by firing a gun at them. Moreover, he had cleared a path on his property for school buses to take and also started speaking with Poland weeks before the incident.

The Aftermath

A week after the hostage crisis, Ethan and his mother had an interview on the Dr. Phil Show. On February 26, the bunker was demolished by officials, who stated that the reason for it was that the bunker posed a “biological risk.”

Following his rescue, Ethan got to celebrate his 6th birthday, and as far as I can tell, has not shown any signs since that the ordeal has left a psychological impact on him, which is the second best news to come out from this incident, the first being Ethan’s rescue.


Nicole Henley is a writer and storyteller. An East-coast girl whose obsessed with shows like The X-Files, Buffy and almost every crime procedural series under the sun. Writing the story is merely half the journey. When she’s not covering cold cases or mysteries, she’s watching movies or writing poetry, short stories, and flash fiction that may or may not be based on horror.

Of Misdeeds and Mysteries

True Crime and Unbelievably Real Stories; we aim to shine a light on the forgotten and unknown.

Nicole Henley

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Freelance writer of stories on true crime, unsolved mysteries, marvels of history, and more.

Of Misdeeds and Mysteries

True Crime and Unbelievably Real Stories; we aim to shine a light on the forgotten and unknown.

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