MIDLAND CITY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama bus driver slain at the beginning of a multi-day hostage drama was known for his acts of kindness, from fixing someone's tractor to tilling the garden of a neighbor who had a heart attack.
Charles Albert Poland Jr. was mourned by hundreds who gathered at a funeral home not far from the underground bunker where police say an Alabama man was still holding a 5-year-old boy early Sunday. Friends remembered Poland as a humble hero who gave his life to protect the children on the bus — and someone who went out of his way to help neighbors.
"You don't owe me anything," Poland, of Newton, once told a recipient of his good deed. "You're my neighbor."
The 66-year-old Poland was driving a school bus carrying 21 children last Tuesday when an armed man boarded the bus and demanded two boys between 6 and 8 years old. Poland tried to block his way, so the gunman shot him several times and abducted a 5-year-old boy — who police say remains in an underground bunker with the suspect, identified as 65-year-old Jim Lee Dykes.
William Lisenby, a school bus driver who also taught Sunday School with Poland, was flanked by other area bus drivers as he arrived at Saturday night's viewing. Lisenby spoke in Biblical terms when referring to Poland, whose funeral is Sunday afternoon.
"If you'll notice the similarities there, of what Chuck did was the same thing that Jesus Christ did. These children, even though they were not Chuck's, he laid down his life to defend those children. My hat's off to him for that," he said.
Dykes is a Vietnam-era veteran described by some neighbors as a menacing figure with anti-government views. Neighbors said Dykes built the bunker on his rural property, and police have been communicating with Dykes through a ventilation pipe into the bunker. On Sunday morning, an unmanned drone was seen flying above Dykes' property.
Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson told reporters Saturday that Dykes has told them he has blankets and an electric heater in the bunker. Authorities have been conferring in a nearby church.
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. And many knew Poland.
"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.