In this episode of FBI Retired Case File Review, retired agent Kyle Vowinkel reviews the 2013 Alabama bunker child abduction case, known as the Boy in the Bunker, one of the FBI’s greatest hostage recovery operations.
January 2023 marks the 10-year anniversary of the crisis event which took place from January 29, 2013 through February 4, 2013 in Midland City Alabama near the FBI’s Dothan Resident Agency. Jimmy Lee Dykes boarded a school bus, killed the driver, and took a five-year-old Ethan Gilman hostage. Having served for eight years on the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) and, at the time of the incident, the Crisis Negotiation Unit (CNU), Kyle was on the ground, walking up to the bunker 3 times a day, accompanying the HRT and acting as a bridge between tactical agents and negotiators efforts to save the abducted child.
Kyle was the architect and orchestrated the plan to save Ethan. For his contribution to the successful resolution, he received the Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Heroism.
He has shared this case review at dozens of tactical and negotiation conferences around the world.
Kyle Vowinkel dedicated 33 years of service to his country as an FBI Special Agent, U.S. Army officer and West Point graduate. He served in the FBI for 24 years. After his assignments on HRT and the CNU, he used his leadership experiences as a supervisor at multiple FBI offices and retired as Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) in the Miami Division.
During his Bureau career, he deployed to over twenty countries, including China, Qatar, Kenya, South Korea, and Peru, and as a tactical operator on HRT on hundreds of high-risk missions domestically as well as overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While a member of CNU, he negotiated with kidnappers, pirates, and one of the Boston Marathon bombers who Vowinkel persuaded to surrender peacefully.
He has been a keynote inspirational speaker at events around the world for companies and institutions such as West Point, Cornell University, Google, California Association of Tactical Officers, Baltimore Hostage Negotiation Seminar, and FBI National Academy events. He plans to publish a book in the fall of 2024 to share stories from his career. You may contact Kyle via his website – Apex Consulting.
Special Agent (Retired)
3/1998 – 7/2022
“Dykes wanted to talk and tell his story. That’s perfect, that’s what negotiators do. We listen, build rapport, demonstrate empathy, lower his expectations. Keep him on a stable emotional level.”—Retired Agent Kyle Vowinkel
The following are links to articles about the 2013 Alabama Bunker child abduction incident in Dothan, AL:
Psychology Today – 5/4/2017: Rescuing the Boy in the Bunker
Wall Street Journal – October 12, 2015: INSIDE AN FBI HOSTAGE CRISIS – A Stolen Boy, an Angry Loner, an Underground Bunker
New York Daily News – 6/2/2013: Bunker where Alabama boy was held hostage revealed by FBI
Reuters – 6/1/2013: FBI tapes detail drama of Alabama bunker hostage saga
FBI Retired Case File Review previously reviewed this 2013 Alabama bunker case. Listen to Episode 188: Ron Hosko – The Boy in the Bunker, FBI Hostage Rescue