Town mourns for slain bus driver amid standoff
MIDLAND CITY, Alabama (AP) – A community prepared Sunday to bury a beloved bus driver who was shot to death trying to protect the children on his bus, including a 5-year-old boy allegedly taken hostage by the shooter, who is now in a standoff with police entering its sixth day.
Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66, who was known around the town of Newton as Chuck, was described by people in his hometown as a humble hero. Hundreds of people attended a viewing service for Poland on Saturday evening. 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.
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 set up a command post at a church and have been communicating with Dykes through a ventilation pipe to the underground bunker.
Olson also said Dykes has allowed police to deliver colouring 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, Alabama, in the state’s southeastern corner.
Newton is about three miles (5 kilometres) 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.