MIDLAND CITY, Ala. – Community members have been holding prayer vigils for Charles Albert Poland, 66, the school bus driver who was fatally shot while attempting to prevent the kidnapping of students from his bus.
Family and friends have been sharing memories of Poland, who was remembered as caring and helpful to others. "He was a good Christian man," Linda Williams, whose cousin was married to Poland, told NBC News.
Suspected gunman Jimmy Lee Dykes boarded Poland’s bus on Tuesday and told him that he needed two kids "between the ages of 6 and 8." Poland was shot and killed after refusing to hand over the students.
Poland "gave his life to protect 21 students who are now home safely with their families,” Dale County Schools Superintendent Donny Bynum said.
The National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) on Wednesday issued a statement about the Alabama incident.
“Once again, our nation confronts a senseless, horrific tragedy that involves one of our most trusted public services,” the association said. “We mourn the loss of one of our own, and we lament the terrifying situation children witnessed.
“School bus drivers are trained in situational awareness, safety and security. But in a free society there are unlimited opportunities for those bent on inflicting harm, and the most vulnerable often are the targets.”
NAPT officials noted that they are working with others nationally to develop strategies to make schools and school transportation safer and more secure in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Connecticut in December.
“Now, that conversation will be expanded,” the association said. “Clearly, this incident re-sounds the clarion call for a serious national conversation about safety and security in education. School buses are our safest mode of transportation. But they must also be as secure as possible. Our children and grandchildren also ride in school buses, and we are pledged to nothing less than the highest security standards for the children entrusted to us each school day, and those who drive them."
NAPT said that it will provide relevant resources and education, particularly at its annual Summit in Grand Rapids, Mich., this fall. The association also encouraged those interested in becoming involved in these efforts to go to www.napt.org/safetyandsecurity.
In his daily e-newsletter, pupil transportation consultant Dick Fischer called it a “sad day in the school bus world” and suggested that the industry “lower our flags at each school bus transportation center to half-staff in honor of Mr. Poland.”
As previously reported, a bill that was pre-filed in the Alabama Legislature would increase the penalty for trespassing on school buses. The bill was scheduled for a first read on Feb. 5.
Services for Poland are scheduled for this Sunday.