Alabama town mourns bus driver killed in hostage standoff
Published Sunday, February 3, 2013 8:51AM EST
Last Updated Sunday, February 3, 2013 10:25PM EST
Hundreds of mourners gathered Sunday to remember a school bus driver who was shot and killed last week in a hostage crisis now in its sixth day.
A funeral for Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66, was held Sunday afternoon in Slocumb, Ala. Those who knew him say Poland will be remembered for his kindness and his humble demeanor, as well as the courage he showed when he tried to protect the students on his school bus.
Poland’s son, Aaron, told NBC News that he wasn’t surprised by his father’s last efforts to save the kids on the bus.
"He considered them his children," Aaron said. "And I know that's the reason why my dad took those shots, for his children, just like he would do for me and my sister."
Poland died after an armed man boarded his bus last Tuesday and demanded two young boys. Poland was shot several times after he tried to block the gunman.
The gunman, who police have identified as 65-year-old Jim Lee Dykes, abducted a 5-year-old boy and fled to a nearby underground bunker on his rural property, where he remains. Officials have not yet said if Dykes has made any demands.
Friends called Poland a hero, and someone who would always lend a helping hand.
Poland lived in Newton, a small hamlet located just five kilometres away from Midland City, where the shooting and abduction took place.
Auto parts shop owner Lonnie Daniels told The Associated Press Poland lived in Newton for decades with his wife of 43 years.
“He’s probably the nicest guy you’ll ever meet,” Daniels said.
Poland was an excellent mechanic with tools that he lent to people in town, Daniels said.
The funeral home where hundreds gathered to mourn Poland was not far the underground bunker where the gunman is holding the child hostage.
Police have been negotiating with Dykes, a Vietnam-era veteran, through a pipe that goes through his bunker, CNN correspondent Victor Blackwell told CTV News Channel on Sunday.
Blackwell said negotiations with Dykes are ongoing and FBI agents have kept the line of communication open 24 hours a day.
“The authorities are keeping a lot of the details close to them because they tell us they do not want to agitate Mr. Dykes or the situation,” he said.
Blackwell also said authorities have told reporters repeatedly that there is no reason to believe that the boy has been or is being harmed. As well, the boy’s family are given hourly updates, Blackwell said.
Neighbours describe Dykes as having anti-government views and strong views on property rights.
Neighbours recall seeing Dykes walking around his property at night with a flashlight and a gun, threatening anyone who crossed his property, Blackwell said.
On Saturday local Sheriff Wally Olson thanked Dykes for taking care of the hostage and allowing officials to pass on comfort items to the boy, including colouring books, medication and toys.
“I want to thank him for taking care of our boy,” Olson said. “That’s very important.”
Blackwell said the medication is required because the boy is reported to have ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome.
“Also he’s asked for potato chips and we know that they’ve been passed on to him,” Blackwell said.
Dykes was scheduled to appear in court Wednesday to answer charges that he shot at his neighbours in a dispute over a speed bump last month.
With files from The Associated Press