MIDLAND CITY, Ala. — 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-America views, authorities and an organization that tracks hate groups said on Wednesday.
Law enforcement officials from multiple agencies were convened near the bunker in Midland City as an overnight standoff with the shooter continued on Wednesday, said Dothan police Sgt. Rachel David.
“At this time, law enforcement has extended the evacuation area to ensure the safety of those living in the immediate area,” David said in a statement.
Authorities said driver Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66, was killed after the gunman boarded a bus ferrying 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, then shot the driver before taking the child and fleeing the scene.
On Wednesday, the gunman remained holed up with the child in the bunker on his property down a dirt road. It was unclear whether the gunman had any relationship to the child, variously identified by local media as 5 or 6 years old.
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 as authorities continued to negotiate with the gunman. Reuters could not independently verify his identity.
But 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 Dykes.
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 after his arrest last month on a menacing charge. Local media reported Dykes was accused of pulling a gun on a neighbor who Dykes believed had driven in his yard.