(Adds details, quotes)
By Phil Sears
MIDLAND CITY, Ala. Jan 30 The gunman suspected
of fatally shooting an Alabama school bus driver before holing
up in an underground bunker with a young child is a Vietnam
veteran with anti-government views, authorities and an
organization that tracks hate groups said on Wednesday.
Law enforcement officials from multiple agencies were
bivouacked near the bunker in Midland City but offered few
details about an overnight standoff with the shooter that
stretched into Wednesday evening.
Authorities said driver Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66, was
killed after the gunman boarded a bus ferrying more than 20
children home from school on Tuesday.
The suspect demanded the driver let a student off the bus,
Alabama media reported. When Poland refused, the man boarded the
bus and shot the driver before taking a 6-year-old kindergarten
student and fleeing the scene.
On Wednesday, the gunman remained holed up with the boy in
the underground bunker on his property down a dirt road. Dale
County Coroner Woodrow Hilboldt said the man and child were
barricaded in "some kind of a tornado bunker."
The shooting comes as national debate rages over gun
violence, especially in schools, after a gunman shot dead 20
students and six staff members at a Connecticut elementary
school last month.
Schools in the area of the Alabama shooting were closed on
Wednesday and will remain shuttered for the rest of the week.
Dale County Superintendent Donny Bynum lauded Poland as "a
hero...who gave his life to protect 21 students who are now home
safely with their families."
The superintendent's assistant said the young boy still
being held by the gunman appeared to have been chosen at random.
"Emotions are high, and it's a struggle for us all to make
sense of something so senseless, but let us keep this young
student, his family and Mr. Poland's family in our thoughts and
prayers," Bynum said in a statement.
Reuters could not independently verify the gunman's
identity. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported on its
Hatewatch blog that a chief investigator with the Dale County
Sheriff's Office identified the gunman as 65-year-old Jimmy Lee
Investigator Tim Byrd said Dykes' friends and neighbors
described him as a "survivalist" who did not trust the
government, according to the law center blog.
"He was standoffish, didn't socialize or have any contact
with anybody," Byrd told Hatewatch.
Dykes had not been on the law center's radar before the
shooting and standoff, and there was nothing to suggest he was a
member of any hate group, said senior fellow Mark Potok.
"What it looks like is that he's some kind of
anti-government radical and survivalist," Potok told Reuters.
"And exactly what that means, we don't know."
Court records show Dykes had been due to appear for a bench
trial on Wednesday following his arrest last month on a menacing
James Edward Davis told CNN the arrest stemmed from an
altercation he had with Dykes that ended with Dykes allegedly
firing two gunshots from a pistol, as Davis sped off in his car.
"He fired the gun twice," said Davis, adding that he had a
child inside the vehicle when the shooting occurred.
Neighbors told the Dothan Eagle newspaper they also had seen
Dykes walk around his yard late at night with a shotgun and
flashlight. Ronda Wilbur, who lives across the street from
Dykes, said he once beat her family dog with a lead pipe. The
dog later died from his injuries, she said.
(Reporting by Kaija Wilkinson in Mobile, Alabama; Additional
reporting and writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Tom Brown
and Andrew Hay)