MIDLAND CITY, Ala. - As the police standoff with an Alabama 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 trying to protect children on his bus when the episode began days earlier.
Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66, who was known around town as Chuck, was described by folks in his hometown of Newton as a humble hero. Visitation services for Poland were scheduled for Saturday evening, and 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. "He would do it for those children."
Cade Smith, 6, watches the flame of his candle burn as his mother, Brandi, looks on during a candlelight vigil for the families involved in the ongoing hostage crisis Friday night, in Midland City, Ala. The Smith family feels a connection to the autistic boy named Ethan being held hostage because their son, Cade, also has autism.
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.
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 on his property. Authorities have been communicating with Dykes through a ventilation pipe to the underground bunker.
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.
Nearly everyone in Newton is 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.