The family of the Alabama bus driver killed for refusing to hand children over to a gunman is speaking out for the first time. NBC's Gabe Gutierrez reports.
An Alabama boy spent his fourth day of captivity in an underground bunker Friday with a survivalist who allegedly killed a school bus driver, but the 5-year-old has received medicine he needs, plus crayons and coloring books.
Hostage negotiators have been talking to the boy's captor through a lengthy PVC pipe, but there was no sign of progress. Police told Alabama media Thursday that the man has been known to stay in the bunker as long as eight days.
The boy, a 5-year-old named Ethan known to his mother as "Love Bug," was apparently unharmed, authorities said Thursday.
His family, which has not spoken publicly since the abduction, was "holding on by a thread," a state representative told the TODAY show. "We are all just hoping this can come to a safe end," Rep. Steve Clouse said.
Jimmy Lee @!$%#s, 65, a Vietnam veteran described by authorities as a loner with anti-government leanings -- and by neighbors as a paranoid menace -- is suspected of taking the boy after storming a school bus Tuesday afternoon. Bus driver Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66, was shot and killed while trying to stop the abduction.
Strangely, the two men had a brief encounter just a day before the siege, a neighbor said.
Kelly Miller, who lives next door to @!$%#s, told NBC affiliate WSFA that @!$%#s boarded Poland’s bus Monday and spoke with him. She did not know what was said.
Then on Tuesday morning, before the abduction, Poland gave @!$%#s a gift of eggs and marmalade to thank him for clearing off the driveway where the bus had to turn around, according to Miller.
Miller, whose sons Jessie and Jackson were able to leave the bus before the shooting, told the station that @!$%#s called her father to the property fence shortly afterward and gave him Poland’s gifts, saying: "Here. I don't want this."
Hours later, Miller heard shots and screams.
"Within seconds of me grasping what was going on, I knew it was Jim," she told WSFA.
A source close to the investigation said the bunker, which is on @!$%#s' property and was described by a neighbor as 4 feet long, 6 feet wide and 8 feet deep, was equipped with power, food, television and plenty of supplies. The source said negotiators had gotten medicine, crayons and coloring books to the boy.
Late Thursday, Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson said negotiations through the pipe were continuing.
Clouse told reporters that the boy suffered from Asperger's syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder but had been able to get his medicine while held captive.
People in the small Alabama town of Midland City, not far from the Florida line, expressed hope that prayer might help. For the negotiators it is a matter of waiting, said Clint Van Zandt, a former chief hostage negotiator for the FBI.
"He doesn't want to hurt the child. He didn't take the child to hurt him," said Van Zandt, an analyst for MSNBC. "The child is simply the means to keep law enforcement from crashing into his bunker right now."
He added: "Time is on the side of the negotiator."
It could still be a long wait. James Arrington, police chief of the nearby town of Pinckard, told The Birmingham News that @!$%#s has been known to stay in his bunker as long as eight days.
The source told NBC News that the man believed to be @!$%#s walked onto the bus on Tuesday with a note, demanding that two children be handed over to him. The bus driver refused and was shot and killed.
Clouse said the kidnapping appeared to be random.
Neighbors in Midland City have said they saw @!$%#s tirelessly digging and working on the bunker. One man said it was protected by several feet of sand on top.
Poland has been hailed as a hero. The county school system said 21 children made it off the bus alive.
The driver's son, Aaron Poland, told NBC News that his father took bullets for the children on his bus as he would have for his own children.
"Every time a child got on my dad's bus, they were no longer their parents', they were his," he said.
Poland's sister, Vicki Upchurch, told NBC station KHQ in Spokane, Wash., that the driver "would have done anything to protect those kids."
Poland and his family grew up in northern Idaho, where much of the family still lives, Upchurch said.
Relatives were planning to travel from Idaho to Alabama for Poland's funeral services this weekend.
"We will get through this," Upchurch said. "My brother was very religious. He had a deep faith."
M. Alex Johnson, Ian Johnston, Matthew DeLuca, Gabe Gutierrez, Isolde Raftery and Alastair Jamieson of NBC News contributed to this report.