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Slain Alabama bus driver called a hero for protecting his 'youngins' '

By Greg Botelho, CNN
February 1, 2013 -- Updated 1627 GMT (0027 HKT)
Charles Poland, the bus driver who was killed in Alabama.
Charles Poland, the bus driver who was killed in Alabama.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bus driver Charles Poland, 66, was killed while on a route in southeastern Alabama
  • He was shot dead after refusing a man's demands to take two children
  • His relatives say Poland was a gentle man who loved the children he drove and others
  • He is now being remembered as a a selfless man who "made the ultimate sacrifice"

(CNN) -- Charles Poland was doing a job he loved, driving a bus full of children he loved along rural Alabama streets and highways.

And then, in a quick flurry of bullets, he was dead.

For that -- for refusing the gunman's demand to take two schoolchildren around 4 p.m. Tuesday, then to face the horrific consequence -- Poland is being called a hero; by officials in the school system he worked for, by the people of Dale County, by his family.

"You couldn't give nothing greater than your life for a kid or anyone else," his brother-in-law Melvin Skipper told CNN affiliate WDHN.

"That's a hero."

His life began on July 16, 1946, in Payette, Idaho -- a town along the Oregon border some 2,300 miles northwest of where his life ended, in southeastern Alabama.

For 43 of his 66 years, he was married to Mary Janice Poland. During his lifetime, "Chuck" -- as he was known -- also became a father of two and "paw-paw" of two grandsons.

And he had other children as well. After some time as a substitute bus driver, Poland began full-time duty shuttling students around Dale County four years ago.

It was a job he enjoyed, his brother-in-law said, because of the children he drove.

"There was a laughter and a love that he had for the kids," Skipper recalled, reflecting on the regular conversations he'd have with his wife about "my youngins'." "They were his youngins', when he had them on the bus."

His wife told the local newspaper, the Dothan Eagle, that her husband would do anything for his young passengers, like many others.

"He loved them," she said. "He loved everybody, and he was loved."

His neighbors in the small town of Newton and relatives remembered Poland as a gentle man, a humble man, a man of faith. In words and deeds, he didn't hesitate to help others in need and wouldn't take anything in return, according to his neighbor Hilburn Benton, who talked to the Eagle.

Yet many others first learned of him after Tuesday, when a man -- whom authorities haven't identified, but neighbors and news outlets say is 65-year-old retired truck driver and Vietnam veteran Jimmy Lee Dykes -- approached his bus in Midland City.

The gunshots rang out after Poland rebuffed the suspect's attempts for two children. Dykes then took one 5-year-old boy, bringing him to the handmade bunker he had created near his home. Late Thursday night, that's where the child and his kidnapper remained -- with no sign the boy had been harmed, said Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson, but no indication a breakthrough was imminent, either.

As to Poland, he'll be memorialized Saturday night at a visitation service, followed by his funeral Sunday afternoon at the Ozark Civic Center.

"We are mourning a hero," the Dale County schools said, "... who gave his life to protect 21 students who are now home safely with their families."

That sentiment was echoed in Poland's obituary. He, the notice said, was "a selfless man whose life exemplified the Lord he served, (who) made the ultimate sacrifice by saving the lives of the children he loved."

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