FBI agents and analysts take viewers inside a real-life race-against-the-clock mission to save a 5-year-old boy kidnapped and held hostage by an armed gunman in the series premiere of “The FBI Declassified,” airing Tuesday, October 6 at 10/9c on CBS.
For seven days beginning in January 2013, the country was gripped by a drama in Midland City, Alabama. A 5-year-old kindergartener named Ethan Gilman had been kidnapped from his school bus by 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes, who moments earlier had shot dead the bus driver.
Dykes dragged Ethan into an underground bunker he had constructed on his property and held the boy hostage. Law enforcement would learn Dykes had planned to use Ethan as a pawn to gain access to national media to share his anti-government views.
The FBI was called in to aid local law enforcement agencies and hundreds of personnel from the Bureau descended upon the rural Alabama town. A critical member of the FBI’s team on the ground was Molly Amman, an FBI profiler with the agency’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. A profiler’s job entails getting inside the criminal’s head, and studying past actions to predict future behaviors. The idea is to always try and be one step ahead of the criminal.
“If I could summarize our mission,” says Amman, “it would be to hopefully bend Jim Dykes to our will. That was what we wanted to do, we wanted him to release Ethan. And persuading him to do that was everything.” With intel gained from negotiators, as well as from law enforcement interviews with relatives and neighbors, Amman scrutinized every detail of Dykes’ life. “I was beginning to develop a picture of Jim Dykes as an injustice collector.”
In this case, Amman discovered Jimmy Lee Dykes was a loner with a strong anti-government mentality who didn’t trust anyone. He lacked empathy and had no successful relationships in his life. Dykes also had a misdemeanor criminal record that included altercations with neighbors. In fact, the day after the standoff began, Dykes was due in court for pulling a gun on a neighbor.
Amman had to study the hostage as carefully as the kidnapper. Dykes and young Ethan were locked in a co-dependency. Amman knew their behavior patterns could help profilers predict how the drama might unfold. “Jim Dykes needed Ethan because Ethan was his only protection against assault on his position, and Ethan needed Jim Dykes because he was the difference between life and death for Ethan.” Amman says it was a “very difficult situation with a lot of complex interrelationships forming between all the players on scene.”
As the week wore on, Dykes’ mental state continued to deteriorate. The FBI Hostage Rescue Team practiced how they would breach the bunker on a mock-up constructed nearby. “Nothing good was happening,” recalls Amman. “I certainly was profoundly alarmed for Ethan’s safety, as I think we all were.”
By day seven, Amman and other members of the FBI team felt there was nothing left to negotiate so they had no choice but to take action. The FBI Hostage Rescue Team stormed the bunker, using stun grenades to catch Dykes off guard. In the process, 5-year-old Ethan was saved. Jimmy Lee Dykes was killed.
Recalls Amman, “I certainly would have much preferred to prosecute him than for him to be killed. But mostly my thoughts were dominated with relief that Ethan was alive.”