Speaking into a ventilation pipe, hostage negotiators tried to talk a man into releasing a five-year-old boy and ending a standoff at an underground bunker in rural Alabama that stretched into its third day.

The man identified by multiple neighbours and witnesses as 65-year-old retired truck driver Jimmy Lee Dykes was accused of pulling the boy from a school bus on Tuesday and killing the driver. The man and boy were holed up in a small room on his property that authorities compared to tornado shelters common in the area.

James Arrington, police chief of the neighbouring town of Pinckard, said the shelter was about 1.2 metres underground, with a ventilation pipe that negotiators were speaking through.

There were signs that the standoff could continue for some time: A state legislator said the shelter has electricity, food and TV. The police chief said the captor has been sleeping and told negotiators that he has spent long periods in the shelter before.

"He will have to give up sooner or later because

[authorities] are not leaving," Arrington said. "It's pretty small, but he's been known to stay in there eight days."

Midland City Mayor Virgil Skipper said he has been briefed by law enforcement and visited with the boy's parents.

"He's crying for his parents," he said. "They are holding up good. They are praying and asking all of us to pray with them."

The normally quiet red clay road was teeming Thursday with more than a dozen police cars and trucks, a fire truck, a helicopter, officers from multiple agencies, media and at least one ambulance near Midland City, population 2,300. Homes on the road had been evacuated after authorities found what they believed to be a bomb on the property.

'He's against the government — starting with Obama on down.'—Pinckard, Ala., police Chief James Arrington

The boy was watching TV and getting medication sent from home, according to state Representative Steve Clouse, who met with authorities and visited the boy's family. Clouse said the bunker had food and electricity.

Authorities lowered medicine into the bunker for the boy after his captor agreed to it, Clouse said.

Arrington said Dykes holds strong anti-government views and the FBI has reason to believe the shooting was a hate crime.

"He's against the government — starting with Obama on down," Arrington said. "He doesn't like law enforcement or the government telling him what to do. He's just a loner."

'He just wanted a child for a hostage'

Police negotiators tried to win the boy's safe release.

"As far as we know there is no relation at all. He just wanted a child for a hostage situation," said Michael Senn, a pastor who helped comfort traumatized children after the attack.

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Police SWAT teams and hostage negotiators gather at the scene of a standoff and hostage situation near Midland City, Ala., after a gunman killed a bus driver and snatched a five-year-old boy. (Mickey Welsh/Montgomery Advertiser/Associated Press)

The situation remained unchanged for hours as negotiators continued talking to the suspect, Alabama State Trooper Charles Dysart told a news conference late Wednesday. Earlier in the day, Sheriff Wally Olson said authorities had "no reason to believe that the child has been harmed."

Local TV station WDHN obtained a police dispatch recording of the moment officers first arrived at the property, in which officers are heard saying that they were trying to communicate with Dykes through a PVC pipe leading into the shelter.

Authorities gave no details of the standoff, and it was unclear if Dykes made any demands.

Bus driver hailed as hero

The standoff began after school Tuesday afternoon.

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School bus driver Charles Albert Poland, Jr. was being hailed as a hero after he was killed by a gunman while trying to prevent the shooter from boarding the bus to abduct children. (Dale County Board of Education/Associated Press)

The bus driver, Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66, was hailed by locals as a hero who gave his life to protect the 21 students aboard the bus. Authorities say most of the students scrambled to the back of the bus when the gunman boarded and said he wanted two boys six to eight years old.

When the gunman went down the aisle, authorities said, Poland tried to block him. That's when authorities say the driver was shot four times before the gunman grabbed the child at random and fled.

Neighbours said Dykes was a man who once beat a dog to death with a lead pipe, threatened to shoot children for setting foot on his property and patrolled his yard at night with a flashlight and a shotgun.

Suspect was a menacing presence

Jimmy Lee Dykes, who is reported to be in a standoff with police after killing a bus driver and taking a boy hostage this week, had been scheduled to appear in court Wednesday morning to answer charges he shot at his neighbours in a dispute last month over a speed bump.

Neighbours said their children had a run-in with him about 10 months ago.

"My bulldogs got loose and went over there," Patricia Smith said. "The children went to get them. He threatened to shoot them if they came back."

"He's very paranoid," her husband said. "He goes around in his yard at night with a flashlight and shotgun."

He had been scheduled to appear in court Wednesday morning to answer charges he shot at his neighbours in a dispute last month over a speed bump on the road.

Mike and Patricia Smith, who live across the street from Dykes and whose two children were on the bus, said their youngsters had a run-in with him about 10 months ago.

"My bulldogs got loose and went over there," Patricia Smith said. "The children went to get them. He threatened to shoot them if they came back."

"He's very paranoid," her husband said. "He goes around in his yard at night with a flashlight and shotgun."

Another neighbour, Ronda Wilbur, said Dykes beat her dog with a lead pipe for coming onto his side of the dirt road. The dog died a week later.

"He said his only regret was he didn't beat him to death all the way," Wilbur said. "If a man can kill a dog, and beat it with a lead pipe and brag about it, it's nothing until it's going to be people."

Claudia Davis said he yelled and fired shots at her, her son and her baby grandson over damage Dykes claimed their truck did to a makeshift speed bump in the dirt road. No one was hurt. "Before this happened, I would see him at several places and he would just stare a hole through me," Davis said. "On Monday I saw him at a laundromat and he seen me when I was getting in my truck, and he just stared and stared and stared at me."

Court records showed Dykes was arrested in Florida in 1995 for improper exhibition of a weapon, but the misdemeanour was dismissed. The circumstances of the arrest were not detailed in his criminal record. He was also arrested for marijuana possession in 2000.