True Crime

Slain School Bus Driver Hailed as Hero After Gunman Demanded Students

01/31/2013 at 12:45 PM EST

School Bus Driver Charles Poland Hailed as Hero
Law enforcement personnel and driver Charles Poland (inset)
Phil Sears/Landov; Inset: AP
When a gunman boarded a stopped school bus in Midland City, Ala., Tuesday afternoon and demanded that all the young students be turned over to him, bus driver Charles Albert Poland refused. He also took four fatal bullets for the kids – who all, but one, escaped to safety.

In the melee, a 5-year-old kindergartener, whose name is being withheld, was kidnapped and is still being held in an earthen bunker with a man identified as Jimmy Lee Dykes, 65, a 6-foot-tall Navy veteran and retired truck driver, according to the Greenville News.

"Right now the whole town seems like they're just in a mourning stage," Carl McKenzie, a convenience store manager, told station WSFA. "I would go take that child's place if I could, just to get him out of danger."

Law officials describe Dykes as "paranoid and combative," reports the Associated Press. His neighbors echoed those descriptions to the Greenville News.

"As far as we know there is no relation at all" between the boy and his alleged abductor, Michael Senn, a pastor who helped comfort other traumatized children after the attack, told the newspaper. "He just wanted a child for a hostage situation."

Sheriff Wally Olson said there was "no reason to believe that the child has been harmed."

Law enforcement agents, including those from the FBI, are on the rural highway near the alleged gunman's property, with police negotiators trying to win the kindergartener's safe release from the suspect by communicating with him through a PVC pipe leading into the shelter.

State Rep. Steve Clouse, who met with police and the boy's family, said the bunker had electricity, permitting the child to watch TV. The News further reported that police got medicine, a coloring book and crayons to the child.

Mourning a Hero

Poland, a driver for the Dale County Board of Education since 2009, is being described as a cheerful and happy man who loved his job. His wife, Jan Poland, told the Dothan Eagle that every day after work, the two of them would sit in their enclosed porch to drink coffee, watch the sun set, or listen to the rain.

As for the kids he drove every day, “He loved them," she said. "He loved everybody and he was loved."

Poland was so gentle, his local paper said, that it hurt him to have to discipline the unruly kids on his bus – so he never would.

"We are mourning a hero, 66 year-old Charles Poland, who gave his life to protect twenty-one students who are now home safely with their families," Schools Superintendent Donny Bynum said in a statement, reports station WCTV.

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