MOBILE, Alabama (Reuters) - A 5-year-old boy was being held hostage for a seventh straight day in an underground bunker in Alabama on Monday, and authorities remained tight-lipped about talks to free him from the gunman who shot and killed his school bus driver.
The boy, who is due to celebrate his birthday on Wednesday, was taken from the school bus and locked away in a home-made shelter on the property of Jimmy Lee Dykes, 65, a Vietnam veteran and retired trucker at the center of the hostage drama in a rural corner of southeast Alabama.
"We maintain an open line of communication with Mr. Dykes," said FBI spokesman Jason Pack. "Someone is there to talk with him whenever he wants to talk."
Dykes has been identified by the local sheriff's department as the man who last Tuesday fatally shot bus driver Charles Albert Poland, 66, as he tried to protect the more than 20 children on the bus during their ride home from school.
Authorities have identified the boy only as Ethan, who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. There has been no indication that Ethan has been physically harmed by Dykes, whom the local sheriff's office has thanked for allowing the boy to receive medication, coloring books and toys.
The drama has come amid heightened concerns about gun violence and school safety across America after the December shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school.
Mourners attending Poland's funeral on Sunday at the Ozark City Center praised him as a hero for seeking to protect the children, who watched in horror as he was gunned down.
Most schools in the area remained closed on Monday, despite earlier assurances that they would reopen.
All Dale County Schools will be open on Tuesday, according to Donny Bynum, superintendent of Dale County Schools. The system includes the Midland City Elementary School where Ethan attends kindergarten.
According to neighbors, the notoriously reclusive Dykes moved into the Midland City area about two years ago and was often seen patrolling the property where he lived in a trailer with a gun and flashlight at night.
He had been due to for a bench trial last Wednesday after his recent arrest on a menacing charge involving one of his neighbors.
Pack and other law enforcement officials declined to comment on Monday when asked about the status of talks to resolve the hostage situation peacefully. There have also declined to confirm media reports that the talks are all taking place through a PVC pipe, leading from a dirt road on Dykes' property into the bunker.
In a statement on Sunday, the FBI said Dykes "continues to make the environment as comfortable as possible for the child."
(Reporting by Kaija Wilkinson in Mobile and Tom Brown in Miami; Editing by Leslie Adler)