The family of the bus driver killed for refusing to hand over children is speaking out for the first time. NBC's Gabe Gutierrez reports.
The school bus driver killed this week in an Alabama hostage drama took bullets for the children on his bus just as he would have for his own kids, his son says.
When a child boarded Charles Albert Poland Jr.’s bus, “they were no longer their parents’, they were his,” Aaron Poland told NBC News. “And I know that’s the reason why my dad took those shots. It was for his children, just like he would do for me and my sister.”
Authorities say Jimmy Lee @!$%#s, a Vietnam veteran and survivalist, boarded Poland's bus on Tuesday and demanded two children. When Poland refused, @!$%#s shot him, authorities say. They say @!$%#s took a 5-year-old boy hostage and has been holed up in an underground bunker with him ever since.
Poland, 66, had driven a school bus for Dale County since 2009. Authorities said they found four shell casings at the scene.
"I expected them to say he had a heart attack or got in to a car wreck. Never in my wildest dreams did I think he'd get shot, and shot four times," Poland's sister, Vicki Upchurch, said Thursday.
Upchurch, who lives in Athol, Idaho, told NBC station KHQ of Spokane, Wash., that Poland family grew up in northern Idaho, where much of the family still lives. Relatives were planning to travel from Idaho to Alabama for his funeral services this weekend.
"We will get through this," Upchurch said. "My brother was very religious. He had a deep faith."
Poland joined the Army in the 1960s and moved to Alabama, where he married and had lived ever since, Upchurch said. She said he retired as a diesel mechanic in 2009 and had been driving a school bus to help support his wife until she was able to retire.
"My brother would have done anything to protect those kids," she said.
Schools Superintendent Donny Bynum said in a statement Wednesday that "Mr. Poland was well-loved by all of us here at Dale County Schools."
Poland's wife, Jan, remembered the man known to friends as "Chuck" as a gentle, caring man in an interview with a local newspaper, The Dothan Eagle.
Dale County Board of Education
Dale County bus driver Charles Poland, 66, was killed Tuesday.
Friends and family gathered Wednesday at the couple's home in Newton, about a 15-minute drive from Midland City, according to the paper.
"He loved them," she said of the friends and family shocked by Poland's violent death. "He loved everybody and he was loved."
Terry Roberts, a firefighter and youth pastor in Newton, told the Eagle that he had known Poland for most of his life.
Those who knew him are in "total shock," Roberts told the paper.
"The kids, everybody's just in total shock," Roberts said. "I've got a young child, so it really hits home."
The Dale County Sheriff's Department offered its condolences to Poland's family in a press release Wednesday.
"It says in the Bible the meek will inherit the Èarth," Poland's brother-in-law Melvin Skipper told the Eagle. "He was the meekest man I knew."
While neighbors have described @!$%#s, 65, as a paranoid survivalist who was always digging in his yard with a shovel, Poland's neighbor Hilburn Benton told the Eagle that the bus driver once helped him complete a major yard project and asked nothing in return.
"He told me, 'You're my friend and you're my neighbor. I'm not charging you a dime,'" Benton told the paper.
Schools in Dale County and in neighboring Ozark city were to remain closed for the rest of the week, according to a release Wednesday from the Dale County Board of Education.