280: Kyle Vowinkel – 2013 Alabama Bunker Negotiations

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)

Kyle Vowinkel

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

Daily Mail – 6/2/2013: Inside Alabama kidnapper’s bunker: Newly released FBI photos reveal cramped underground room where crazed gunman held 5-year-old boy captive for six days

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

2013 Alabama bunker
Kyle Vowinkel on phone at the Alabama bunker abduction with HRT members standing by.














2013 Alabama bunker
A graphic drawing of Jimmy Lee Dykes property and the underground Alabama bunker. (Photo credit FOX News)




















2013 Alabama bunker
Law enforcement officers gather around the entry hatch to where the boy in the bunker was held for seven days before being rescued by the HRT. (FBI)










2013 Alabama bunker
The communication pipe used by hostage negotiators discovered booby-trapped with an improvised explosive device – IED. (FBI)














Jerri Williams

View posts by Jerri Williams
Jerri Williams, a retired FBI agent, author and podcaster, jokes that she writes about the FBI to relive her glory days. After 26 years with the Bureau specializing in major economic fraud and corruption investigations, she calls on her professional encounters with scams and schemers to write police procedurals inspired by true crime FBI cases in her Philadelphia FBI Corruption Squad crime fiction series featuring flawed female FBI agent Kari Wheeler. Jerri’s FBI for Armchair Detectives nonfiction series enables readers to discover who the FBI is and what the FBI does by debunking misconceptions about the FBI in books, TV, and movies. Her books are available as ebooks, paperbacks, and audiobooks wherever books are sold. She’s also the host of FBI Retired Case File Review, a true crime podcast with more than 300 episodes available on all popular podcast apps and YouTube.


  1. […] 137: Mark Thundercloud – Negotiating Philippine Kidnapping, Captain Phillips 280: Kyle Vowinkel – 2013 Alabama Bunker Negotiations […]

  2. ClareJanuary 24, 2023

    Jerri, I’ve been listening to your podcast for a while and I’m very disappointed in your use of warnings in this episode. The first audio clip was extremely distressing. If I’d known I was about to hear audio directly of a bus driver being shot and children screaming, I would have skipped the clip or maybe the whole episode! I didn’t hear any warning about that at all. I did hear a warning for profanity. Really, which is worse, hearing children witness their bus driver being murdered or hearing a few unpleasant words that you might hear every day in public? If you’re not going to use specific content warnings, that’s one thing, and it’s understandable. But if you’re willing to go to the effort of using warnings, please make sure they’re actually helpful.

    1. Jerri WilliamsJanuary 24, 2023

      I apologize. I wrongly assumed that listeners were aware that the bus audio featured the shooting of the bus driver. I was wrong. A warning should have been issued. —— Jerri


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