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Alabama town mourns bus driver

Police standoff with boy’s captor enters fifth day

State Trooper Kevin Cook briefed reporters Saturday on the Midland, Ala., hostage siege.

JOE SONGER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

State Trooper Kevin Cook briefed reporters Saturday on the Midland, Ala., hostage siege.

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 people in his hometown of Newton as a humble hero who gave his life Tuesday to protect the children on his bus.

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Visiting hours for Poland were held Saturday evening, and his funeral is 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.’’

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 Saturday that Dykes has told them he has blankets and an electric heater in the bunker.

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Authorities have been communicating with Dykes through a ventilation pipe to the underground bunker.

Olson also said Dykes has allowed authorities to deliver coloring books, medication, and toys for the boy.

The shooting and abduction took place in Midland City, a small comunity near Dothan, Ala., in the state’s southeastern corner.

Police were were saying little about their talks with Dykes. A neighbor said he believes Dykes’s goal is to publicize his antigovernment political beliefs.

Newton is about 3 miles away from Midland City. It is a 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.

Daniels last saw his friend Tuesday morning, when Poland agreed to buy a car from him. The two men shook hands and closed the deal ‘‘like gentlemen,’’ Daniels said. Poland was to return after working his bus route to pay for the car.

‘‘He never came back,’’ Daniels said quietly.

Daniels said Poland had been married to his wife for 43 years.

Poland was from Idaho, but his wife was from Newton. The couple lived there for decades in a small mobile home, and Poland enjoyed gardening and clearing brush on his property.

‘‘I knew that he was always there if I needed,’’ said Daniels, adding that Poland was an excellent mechanic with an array of tools that he lent to people in town.

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.

‘‘They loved to be together,’’ Skipper said.

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.

‘‘We’d all like to get to him and say, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ ” said Gerald Harden, owner of a gun shop in Newton.

Harden said he checked his records to see whether Dykes had bought a firearm there, but records showed he had not.

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