MIDLAND CITY, Ala. – As the standoff with a 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 when the episode started to unfold five days ago.
Charles Albert Poland Jr., a 66-year-old man known around his town as Chuck, was described by folks in his hometown of Newton as a humble hero who gave his life Tuesday to protect the children on his bus. Visitation services for Poland were Saturday evening, and his funeral was set for this afternoon.
I believe that if he had to do it all over again tomorrow, he would, said Poland’s sister-in-law, Lavern Skipper. He would do it for those children.
Authorities said Jim Lee Dykes – a Vietnam-era veteran known as Jimmy to his neighbors – 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. Authorities have been communicating with Dykes through a ventilation pipe to the underground bunked.
Olson also said Dykes has allowed authorities 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. Nearly everyone in Newton was planning to attend Poland’s visitation or funeral.
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.
Neighbors and friends said Poland did various acts of kindness for people in town, from fixing someone’s tractor to tilling the garden of a neighbor who had a heart attack.
You don’t owe me anything, Poland once told a recipient of his good deed. You’re my neighbor.
Skipper said Poland and his wife would often sit on their porch, drinking coffee, praying and reading the Bible.
On Saturday morning, Poland’s wife wasn’t home. A rack of worn trucker’s caps sat on hooks on the porch, and two freshly baked pies were laid atop a cooler.
As Newton grieves, residents are praying for the safe return of the boy being held hostage – and wondering about the man behind the abduction.
In Midland City, police were mostly staying mum about their talks with Dykes. It fell to neighbors to fill in the blanks about the man, described by some as a menacing figure with anti-government views.
Neighbor Michael Creel said he believes Dykes’ goal is to publicize his political beliefs.
I believe he wants to rant and rave about politics and government, Creel said. He’s very concerned about his property.
Dykes had been scheduled to appear in court Wednesday to answer charges he shot at his neighbors in a dispute last month over a speed bump.