MIDLAND CITY, Ala. — As the police standoff with an Alabama man accused of holding a 5-year-old boy hostage continued Saturday, a nearby community prepared to bury the beloved bus driver who was shot to death trying to protect children on his bus when the episode began days earlier.
Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66, who was known around town as Chuck, was described by folks in his hometown of Newton as a humble hero.
Hundreds of people attended visitation services for Poland on Saturday evening. Mourners said they were proud of Poland for his act of selflessness, and for laying down his life for the children on the bus. His funeral was set for Sunday afternoon.
“I believe that if he had to do it all over again tomorrow, he would,” said Poland’s sister-in-law, Lavern Skipper, earlier Saturday. “He would do it for those children.”
Authorities said Jim Lee Dykes boarded a stopped school bus filled with 21 children Tuesday afternoon and demanded two boys between 6 and 8 years old. When Poland tried to block his way, the gunman shot him several times and took one 5-year-old boy — who police say remains in an underground bunker with Dykes.
Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson said in a briefing with reporters Saturday that Dykes has told them he has blankets and an electric heater in the bunker on his property.
Authorities have been communicating with Dykes through a ventilation pipe to the underground bunker.
Olson also said Dykes has allowed police to deliver coloring books, medication and toys for the boy.
“I want to thank him for taking care of our boy,” Olson said. “That’s very important.”
The shooting and abduction took place in Midland City, a small town near Dothan, Ala., in the state’s southeastern corner.
Newton is about three miles away, a small hamlet with fewer than 2,000 residents. It sits amid cotton farms and rolling hills sprinkled with red earth; most of the residents commute to Dothan or to a nearby Army post.
“He’s probably the nicest guy you’ll ever meet,” said Lonnie Daniels, the 69-year-old owner of the NAPA Auto Parts store, one of three establishments in town that was open Saturday.
Daniels last saw his friend Tuesday morning, when Poland agreed to buy a car from him. The two men shook hands and closed the deal “like gentlemen,” Daniels said. Poland was to return after working his bus route to pay for the car.