February 8th, 2013
04:22 PM ET

How students stayed safe after gunman boarded Alabama bus

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - The drama began last week when a gunman boarded a Dale County, Alabama, school bus, shot and killed the driver and grabbed a 5-year-old boy. It ended days later with the boy, Ethan, rescued from a bunker where he was held hostage, and his 65-year-old abductor dead.

Now that Ethan is safe, even celebrating his 6th birthday this week, officials are poring over the details of how the case unfolded, starting on the school bus.

It played out over 4½ minutes, a scene captured by a camera mounted at the front of the bus. It's a security measure common on buses now.

Witnesses and officials who reviewed the recording said Jimmy Lee Dykes boarded the bus with a gun and handed a note to the driver demanding to take several children. The driver, Charles Poland, refused. He stood, placing himself between the gunman and the students.

Meanwhile, older students opened an emergency exit on the back of the bus and ran away from the bus. They knew what to do: Twice-per-year emergency drills reminded them how to evacuate.

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They're the kind of emergency procedures many schools have practiced more since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December. Officials in Alabama said it appeared all safety procedures were followed aboard Poland's bus.

Still, it didn't save everyone. Dykes shot Poland, killing him, and grabbed Ethan, who was seated toward the front, where Poland usually kept an eye on him. The boy was held hostage for days before being rescued on Monday.

Poland was laid to rest this week and remembered by his family and friends as a hero who took steps that may have saved the lives of the kids on the bus.

"They were his 'young'uns,' when he had them on the bus," his brother-in-law Melvin Skipper told CNN affiliate WDHN.

Poland's son, Aaron, said he wasn't surprised at all to hear what unfolded in the bus, to know that his dad stood his ground, allowing dozens of children to escape safely.

"That's my dad's key job, to make sure every child was delivered safely to their parents," Aaron Poland said. "My dad didn't have a selfish bone in his body. He did everything he could to be right, to do the right thing for everybody around him or anybody he cared for."

soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. hero

    What this man did was great he is an American hero. Dont talk bad about him

    February 21, 2013 at 9:25 pm |

    yeh mr. poland was a great guy I mean I wouldn't risk my own life but that was truely wonderful. I'm glad that the kid is okay cause y'all need to know he was autistic

    February 20, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  3. Alpha

    You're a true hero Mr. Poland. May you rest in peace and god bless your wonderful soul.

    February 14, 2013 at 11:02 pm |

    i am just glad that all of the kids are safe

    February 14, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
  5. 010010111

    I have a hard time reading these things. Cant stand to read a heartbreaking story only to see such negative comments. If your gonna leave a hateful comment directed towards the innocent victim it really jus shows what kind of person you are. Lets bash the driver, what an idiot! Yeah your a real good person leaving some crap like that. Bet your parents would be real proud of that. How dare you point the finger at the driver. You must be an outstanding member of your community. Every time I read a comment like that I jus lose a lil more faith in humanity. Hope you sleep well.

    February 12, 2013 at 8:22 am |
  6. Emily

    May Mr. Poland rest in peace! I do hope that his son will be just like his dad!

    February 10, 2013 at 9:28 pm |
  7. Hollywood

    Way to go! A brave deed.

    February 10, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
  8. PCK

    Why did the bus driver let the gun-man on the bus? There was even a law against letting anyone except students on. Hero? It was his fault.

    February 10, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • Florida

      You dumb piece of crap the door has glass he could of broke it or just open the door with his hands it's possible. So don't go around being judgmental before you talk site.

      February 11, 2013 at 12:26 am |
      • PCK

        But he didn't break the window or push the door open. The driver stopped and let him on, and the driver had done it in the past also, in violation of the law. How is it not his fault?

        February 11, 2013 at 8:46 am |
    • kcb

      You are heartless. And for your info it is a federal offense for anyone besides students and any faculty or bus aids to step onto a bus and it is also federal offense for anyone, besides law enforcement, to purposely stand in front of a bus to prevent it from going forward to proceed on its route. but who could stop the bad man from entering onto the bus. He was not invited onto the bus the bad guy just proceeded onto the bus uninvited, so the bus driver did his job. and lost his life and saved the lives of all those children by standing between them and the bad guy. Go get a life and learn to keep your mouth shut!!! Dont you ever wonder about karma ??? Signed... a bus driver!!!!!

      February 12, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
      • PCK

        The driver knew the gunman, let him on the bus, and had done so before. Am I the only one that reads?

        February 13, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
  9. RebeccaH

    Thanks for the update: I had been wondering how the children would know to open the back door and go out. I didn't know that today, children practise for events like this (or for accidents). This gentleman reminds me of my favorite bus driver many years ago - his job was to take care of his kids. I'm grateful there are people in the world like this who will go to great lengths to protect "our children".

    February 10, 2013 at 8:53 am |
    • Meghan

      We practiced evacuations from the bus when I was in school (I graduated HS in 2002). That was before the shootings and incidents like this happened as frequently. The evacuation drills were run in case there was a problem with the bus or following an accident.

      February 10, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
  10. Gabriel Itseumah

    Orty mist

    February 10, 2013 at 5:54 am |
  11. t

    ......GOD BLESS YOU, CHUCK POLAND...........

    February 9, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
  12. JohnE

    What surprises me most in this story is Mr. Poland, the kids who opened the back door (keep in mind) the driver could tell them to open the door or the gunman would have killed the driver sooner, also that President Obama or Mrs. Obama didn't go to Mr. Poland's funeral.

    The last thing that surprises me is that people aren't screaming for a ban on hand guns and bunkers.

    February 9, 2013 at 7:48 am |
    • Amy

      JohnE – it's tiresome when people like you are constantly making every issue political. Did any of the former presidents go to the funeral? Carter? Bush? Clinton? The other Bush? Your sarcasm doesn't add to the conversation, either. It's hackneyed and stupid. There are some people who are calling for the ban of handguns; but in case you haven't been paying attention, the current thrust is the issue of military-style assault weapons.

      February 9, 2013 at 8:14 am |
      • AeroMoose

        Great point, Amy. If President did go, this same guy will be accusing him of using a tragedy for political gain. I am so surprised by amount of passion and fervor people hate Obama. Let's all focus on this true hero instead of using this to take a pot shot at the president.

        February 9, 2013 at 11:07 am |
      • nothemt

        You are so right Amy and Areo, there is nothing this president can do that will be right with the extremist. I am thankful Mr. Poland wast there on that bus and saved so many children. I am grateful a little boy get to celebrate his 6th birthday. I am also reminded of 20 children in one town that will not celebrate anymore birthdays. We must keep our eye on the real issue and gun violence is beyond control.

        February 9, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
  13. disgusted in NM

    A true American Hero. Why wasn't "The First Lady" or obama at this funeral? She made it to the funeral of the black girl in Chicago that was at the inaugeration who was killed, but didn't bother with this? Why isn't she labeled racist?

    February 9, 2013 at 7:22 am |
    • JM

      People are stupider for having read this. The president and his wife can't attend every funeral. They are not racist. Of course they would also pay their respects to a girl who was spart of the president inauguration.

      February 9, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
  14. USA

    RIP MR POLAND. True Hero 🙂

    February 9, 2013 at 2:39 am |
  15. Susan

    You can rest now with the angels, Mr. Poland. You last child is safely home.

    February 9, 2013 at 1:25 am |
    • OptyMyst

      You are so right, Susan.

      February 9, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
  16. mik

    The world would be a better place if there were more Mr. Poland's. RIP. Condolences to his family and friends on their terrible loss!

    February 8, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
  17. Baldiggle

    Mr Poland is truly a hero. He did his job as he saw it while under fire.

    The writer who is overly dependent on a spell checker is another issue.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
    • Tony

      You couldn't leave well enough alone, you had to take jab at the writer? Where can I read your article on this subject?

      February 8, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
  18. Todd

    A good man – and a hero.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
  19. JLM

    God bless you Mr. Poland.

    February 8, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
  20. OptyMyst

    "pouring over"? Sigh, from CNN.

    February 8, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • SM

      Assuming by the public ignorance filled within your comment, you would have probably just took off running. Like a coward.

      February 8, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
      • OptyMyst

        I would have taken off running from poor language usage? Nahhh.

        February 8, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
      • Gray1016

        You are the ignorant one. The poster was noting that the reporter does not know the difference between poring and pouring. Obviously you don't either.

        February 8, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
      • Amy

        "Public ignorance"? What is that? Is there a difference between private ignorance and public ignorance?

        February 9, 2013 at 8:10 am |
    • jgumbrechtcnnCNN

      Apologies! Alas, typos happen. We've made the change. Have a great weekend.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
      • OptyMyst

        Thank you so much!

        February 8, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
  21. awall


    February 8, 2013 at 5:59 pm |