Newton firefighter and youth pastor Terry Roberts said he was just a child when Dale County Schools bus driver Charles “Chuck” Poland started taking him along to church.
As Roberts got older, he said Poland remained a Godly man who always wore a smile on his face.
It was perhaps Poland’s smile and a faith similar to what he believed that helped many of his neighbors, family and friends through the tough reality of his death on Tuesday.
Authorities said the 66-year-old bus driver was shot and killed on the school bus by a man believed to be 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes. Witnesses said after Dykes shot Poland, Dykes abducted and held hostage a young boy inside an underground bunker near Midland City, a situation that was still going on Wednesday afternoon.
Roberts was among ministers and residents who prayed for the child’s safe return to his family and assisted other families Wednesday during multiple informal church services and community gatherings throughout Dale County.
Roberts spent much of Wednesday directing traffic and answering calls from students he knows.
As the father of a young child and as someone who knew Poland, Roberts said it was difficult to leave the scene, even to rest.
“Total shock. The kids, everybody’s just in total shock,” Roberts said. “I’ve got a young child so it really hits home. … But we keep praying. Faith is playing a major role right now.”
Terry Howard, interim pastor at Newton First Assembly of God Church, said some residents and church members prayed at the church by themselves late Tuesday and early Wednesday.
Howard said the church’s doors were also open for anyone who needed someone to talk to or to listen. Howard said some of the people were children throughout the community he and his wife had interacted with before through a faith-based program near Newton Elementary School.
“What many think happens in the big city has come here to our little town and a lot of hurting people are trying to figure out why,” Howard said.
“Chuck loved being a bus driver, had just told me maybe two months ago that it might be something I’d be interested in. (The child held hostage) is all of our little boy, whether we know him or not.”
Howard said in addition to praying for the victims of Tuesday and Wednesday’s hostage crisis, people also prayed for Dykes.
“We don’t understand, but we pray,” Howard said.
Midland City Mayor Virgil Skipper and his wife, Patsy, were among several people near the Midland City police and fire station who met with family and friends of those involved in the incidents.
“We just want to show our support,” Skipper said. “There’s a lot of things going on right now. We’re gonna have to come together.”
In addition to prayer, several residents offered food or fellowship time among small groups in Midland City. Longtime Midland City resident Shulaine Rinehardt and members of the Concerned Citizens of Midland City group brought food to first responders and family members on Tuesday, while some of the residents also offered up prayers on Wednesday.
“It’s just what I do,” Rinehardt said. “Some things you can’t fully explain, but when you see someone you know or even if you don’t know them and they’re going through something, you want to do something to help.”