The Alabama school bus driver who was shot to death Tuesday while trying to shield youngsters was raised amid the forests and lakes of northern Idaho, served in the U.S. Army and worked as an auto mechanic, his sister said Friday.
Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66, was hailed as a hero who gave his life to protect the children on his bus. Authorities said a gunman boarded a stopped the bus 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 a 5-year-old boy.
Poland’s sister, Patti Hook, of Deer Park, Wash., was not surprised to hear that her brother tried to block the gunman.
“He’s been my hero all my life,” Hook, 56, said in a telephone interview.
Poland was born in Colorado but raised in the Idaho Panhandle towns of St. Maries and Athol, Hook said.
Their mother, Mildred, for many years was postmaster of Athol, a town of a few hundred people located about 50 miles northeast of Spokane, Wash., she said.
Poland graduated from Lakeland High School in Rathdrum, Idaho, and served with the U.S. Army in Germany and Korea, where he was a mechanic and later flew helicopters, Hook said.
He was stationed in Alabama when he met his wife, Mary Janice. They married and lived briefly in Idaho, then returned to Alabama where they raised two children, Hook said.
Poland worked as an auto mechanic until he retired. He started driving a school bus several years ago for the school district where his wife was a substitute teacher in order to supplement their income, Hook said.
“He was the kindest, sweetest, most giving man,” his sister said. “He always worried about what other people were going through.”
In his spare time, Poland gardened, raised chickens and tinkered in his shop, she said.
The standoff between police and the gunman accused of holding the 5-year-old hostage in an underground bunker dragged into a fourth day Friday, as authorities continued delicate conversations with the man.
The bunker is on the gunman’s property in rural Alabama near the town of Pinckard, police said. There were signs the standoff could go on for some time: the shelter has electricity, food and TV. Police have delivered the boy’s medication through a 4-inch-wide ventilation pipe leading to the bunker.