That tense wintertime drama focused the nation’s attention on tiny Midland City in southeast Alabama and has been selected as the No. 1 Alabama news story of 2013 by The Associated Press.
Other events and issues in Alabama made national and international headlines during the year, but nothing captivated like the horror that began when 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes stepped onto a Dale County school bus in late January and demanded children.
The bus driver, Charles Poland, heroically refused Dykes and was shot dead in his seat. Dykes took blond-haired Ethan Gilman by the arm and took the child into an 8-foot by 6-foot bunker, which Dykes had dug in the sandy soil at the edge of a farm field.
Scores of federal agents descended on the community and waited for six days. Finally, on Feb. 4, an FBI team stormed the bunker and shot Dykes to death. Officers in combat gear emerged from the hole with Ethan, unharmed.
Today, the boy is 6 and still lives in southeast Alabama. He attends school and, by most counts, is doing well.
Here’s a look at the other Top 10 news stories of the year in Alabama:
2. UPS CRASH: A twin-engine UPS cargo jet trying to land at Birmingham’s airport in August came in too low, struck trees beside homes and crashed short of the runway, killing the pilot and co-pilot. Investigators said they did not find initial signs of mechanical problems with the A300 aircraft, but the National Transportation Safety Board could issue a full report in 2014.
3. SORORITY SEGREGATION: The University of Alabama became embroiled in controversy after the student newspaper reported that traditionally white sororities had refused to admit blacks because of race. Administrators changed recruitment rules and some of the social organizations admitted minority members, but some faculty members are pushing for systemic changes to prevent a return to nearly total racial segregation among Greek-letter groups.
4. GUN LAWS: While some states considered clamping down on guns after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut that left 26 children and educators dead, Alabama’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed laws making it more difficult for sheriffs to refuse pistol permits and making it easier for gun owners to keep their weapons with them in public. Because of wording in the law, many businesses began displaying “No Guns” signs.
5. SCOTTSBORO BOYS: Alabama’s parole board approved posthumous pardons in the infamous “Scottsboro Boys” case more than 80 years after nine black men were arrested and charged with raping two white women on a train in north Alabama. The men were convicted by all-white juries, and all but one was sentenced to death. No one was put to death, and all the convictions have now been vacated.
6. DISABLED CRUISE SHIP: Mobile became the temporary home of the Carnival Triumph when the cruise ship was towed to the port city in February after being disabled by a fire with some 4,200 people aboard in the Gulf of Mexico. The Triumph’s troubles continued when it broke loose from its repair moorings during high winds, killing a shipyard worker who was thrown into Mobile Bay.
7. INMATE KILLING: A federal judge sentenced four one-time corrections officers to prison in the beating death of inmate Rocrast Mack, who was fatally injured at Ventress prison in Clayton in 2010. A supervisor received the longest sentence — 30 years in federal prison.
8. SCHOOL TAX CREDITS: Gov. Robert Bentley signed a GOP-backed bill that provides tax credits of about $3,500 per year for families that move their children from failing public schools to participating private schools. Lawsuits were filed to block the law, which was passed despite opposition from Alabama’s state school superintendent, among others.
9. ALABAMA STATE FLAP: An audit of Alabama State University released by Gov. Robert Bentley raised serious questions about the school’s finances and governance. In an unusual move, the historically black school in Montgomery filed a lawsuit in California claiming the audit was improper, damaging to the school and unfair to administrators.
10. HIV INMATES: A federal judge in Montgomery approved a settlement to end Alabama’s decades-old practice of segregating HIV-positive inmates from prisoners who are not infected with the virus that causes AIDS.
The prison system already has ended the policy at the state’s women’s prison in Wetumpka, and the practice will be phased out in men’s prisons in 2014.