MIDLAND CITY, AL (WSFA) - VICTIM IDENTIFIED
On January 30, the Dale County Sheriffs Department confirmed the identity of the school bus driver as 66-year-old Charles Albert Poland, Jr, who has been with the Dale County Board of Education as a bus driver since 2009. Mr. Poland was acting in his official duties when he was fatally shot.
A south Alabama child remains the victim of a hostage situation, having spent hours in an underground bunker with a man who took him from a school bus Tuesday afternoon after fatally wounding the driver.
The situation started around 3:40pm near the Destiny Church at the intersection of U.S. Highway 231 and Private Road 1539 in the small town of Midland City in Dale County.
The Dale County Sheriff's Department and a multitude of other law enforcement, including surrounding police departments, Alabama State Troopers, a SWAT team, and FBI agents converged on the community in the aftermath of the shooting and kidnapping.
As of 11:00pm, authorities were communicating with the suspect via a PVC pipe connected to the bunker. The child is said to be "okay", but authorities remain cautious, calling it a "delicate" situation.
Though there's no confirmed evidence of explosive devices, a bomb squad is on scene. Everyone living in the immediate area around the scene was evacuated "as a precautionary measure" the Dale County Sheriff's Dept. said. Sheriff Wally Olson said it could be a long night, prompting many residents to seek alternate shelter until the situation is resolved.
In light of the bus driver's death and the on-going hostage situation, three school systems have decided to cancel classes for Wednesday. Those systems are Dale County, Daleville City and Ozark City.
Both north and southbound traffic on U.S. Hwy. 231 near the church were closed for hours, but authorities opened the roadway up to commuters late in the evening.
A man who spoke with several children who were on-board the school bus said the students told him they witnessed a man step on-board where he shot the driver and took a young boy hostage.
Michael Senn, a local minister, says his church owns the building occupied by Destiny Church, though it's currently being rented by another congregation. He said while he was not on the scene when the incident happened, he spoke with several of the children a short time later.
Senn said one girl told him that the man who got on-board told most of the students to get off the bus. He then grabbed a young boy and shot the bus driver four times.
Senn said the children who got off the bus ran toward for safety and hid behind Destiny Church. "All the kids are at a safe place," he said, though he added all of them appeared to be in shock.
"I spoke to a young guy, 13-years-old, that was really traumatized," Senn said. The boy, who is "really good friends" with the hostage, witnessed the entire incident. "I talked with him and ministered with him and prayed with him before he left," Senn said before family came and picked him up.
Authorities are not confirming any details about the suspect, including his name or if he has a relationship with the hostage, but a man identifying himself as Mike Creel said the suspect is his neighbor.
Creel said he spoke with some of the students who were on the bus and was told that the suspect boarded the vehicle as it stopped to drop off some students. Creel said students told him the suspect was trying to take two children from the bus but only managed to leave with one. "He was only able to get a hold of one," Creel said the other riders told him, because the child fainted and was grabbed.
Creel said after firing on the driver, the suspect "retreated back onto his land" where "he's hidden in his homemade bomb shelter."
Creel said he chased after the suspect. "I ran into his yard. I didn't realize that it was actually him [the neighbor] at the time..." Creel said he ran right past the suspect's house and underground bomb shelter to the edge of a field where he thought a stranger was possibly running. Creel said by the time he found out it was his neighbor, he was out of the yard and the police were arriving on scene.
Creel said the suspect has lived on the property for around two years and, "that was one of the first things he started building."
Word of the fatal shooting and kidnapping spread through the community, and across the country quickly. Many local residents expressed shock over the situation.
Jacey Green knew the bus driver who lost his life. "The bus driver was my teacher's husband," Green said. "I feel bad for her. I think people shouldn't be doing this to that little kid."
"It's so disheartening," said Chelsea Cooper of Ozark. " You think, you know, things like this would be under control. You would think your children would be okay on a school bus or at a school."
STATE OFFICIALS REACT
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has been notified of the situation and his office says he is closely monitoring the situation.
U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R-Dist.2) tweeted to her followers urging patience "as law enforcement officers do their best to get to the bottom of this..." and asked her followers to "be prayerful, lifting up those affected in prayers for comfort and healing."
State Senator Harri Anne Smith, (I-Dist. 29), asked her constituents and others to "Please pray for the families whose hearts are broken tonight in Dale County. Special prayers for the Brave Bus Drivers family who did his best to protect his children. Special prayers for "Love Bug" the five year old son of a Mother awaiting his safe return. Special prayers for the children who were on the Bus who had to witness such a horrible act."