True-crime research, novel writing research, and updates.
***READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED***
This case is struck a chord in my heart as a parent, grandparent, and as a former school bus driver.
Have you ever known anyone who prepares for the worst—often referred to as a Prepper? They may have a storage room filled with supplies or, in this case, a fully stocked, fortified underground bunker in his back yard.
BLOG POST #236: This week, I’m sharing research on a true-crime involving a decorated veteran who fell on hard times, became angry and paranoid, blaming the government for everything.
To execute his scheme, required extensive planning. A year before the hostage-taking event, he enlisted a neighbor to help him dig out space in his back yard for a 6’ x 8’ bunker 8’ – 10’ underground. He’d equipped the bunker with electricity and air.
Before the incident, although he had no school-age children, he created a school bus turnaround in front of his rural property. On the day of the crime, he met the bus driver in the morning and chatted briefly about vegetables and said he’d see the driver in the afternoon.
Using a bag of vegetables as his reason to board the school bus, he brandished a handgun and gave the bus driver a list of demands. He wanted two children. Students aboard the bus ducked behind the seats—one called 911. In the document, he said when his story was told, he’d release the children unharmed, and then he would die.
The bus driver refused to release any of the children. When his first demand—two students—was not met, he shot and killed the bus driver. In addition to the 911 emergency operator overhearing his actions via the phone call, the school bus camera system captured the exchange.
Here’s the chilling 9-minute clip from the school bus that played on an episode of ABC’s 20/20 TV show: School Bus Audio
After shooting the bus driver, he grabbed the 5-year-old special needs boy seated behind the bus driver.
The local law enforcement called in the FBI to assist. Upon arrival at the property, it was learned the homeowner had buried explosive devices near piping he’d provided to use in communicating with law enforcement. They were able to drop a phone into the bunker to speak with him.
One of the sticking points in the hostage negotiations was the request to send a female news reporter into the bunker to record his story. That wasn’t going to happen.
With the help of the neighbor and using construction supply receipts found in his home, the FBI hostage rescue team constructed a replica of the bunker to better plan how they’d rescue the boy. They also found evidence to indicate he had propane bottles in the bunker. Explosive devices were constructed off-site using the same materials. The devices were detonated to see the amount of damage they would cause—extensive.
After days had passed, it became clear the man had no intention to leave the bunker. Growing concern for the boy’s safety prompted the rescue team to breach the bunker through the hatch. The plan went awry because the hatch had a cabling system attached, which blocked the path. They cut away the cables and breached the hatch to find the man and his captive in darkness. The man was killed in the bunker. Six days after he’d been forced into the bunker, the unharmed boy was rescued.
Worth mentioning: Years after the hostage event, the boy is doing well. Prior to the day he became a hostage, the boy had been in and out of foster care. He was placed with a foster family who later adopted him. He remembers little about his bus driver’s death or his days in the bunker.
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Thanks for reading!
Source: FBI Retired Case File Review, ABC 20/20, Dothan Eagle, and Psychology Today.
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