Alabama Standoff Update: Suspected gunman was violent to animals and threatened to shoot children, neighbors say
(CBS/AP) MIDLAND CITY, Ala. - Neighbors said the Alabama man accused of killing a driver in a school bus full of children and taking one 5-year-old boy hostage in a continuing standoff against police developed a frightening reputation. He was known as a volatile man with anti-government views who threatened his neighbors at gunpoint.
The standoff entered its second full day Thursday as dozens of police cars and rental cars brought FBI agents to the rural Alabama neighborhood where the 65-year-old retired truck driver and his hostage holed up in a bunker-type shelter on the man's property.
Homes on the neighborhood near Midland City, population 2,300, were evacuated earlier after authorities found what they believed to be a bomb on the property. SWAT teams earlier took up positions around the gunman's property and police negotiators tried to win the kindergartener's safe release.
The situation remained unchanged for hours as negotiators continued talking to the suspect, Alabama State Trooper Charles Dysart told a news conference late Wednesday. Authorities gave no details of the standoff, and it was unclear if the suspect made any demands from the bunker, which resembled a tornado shelter.
Earlier in the day, Sheriff Wally Olson said that authorities had "no reason to believe that the child has been harmed."
State Rep. Steve Clouse, who met with authorities and visited the boy's family, said the bunker had food and electricity, and the youngster was watching TV. He said that at one point, authorities lowered medicine into the bunker for the boy after his captor agreed to it.
The standoff began after school Tuesday afternoon when the suspect shot the bus driver several times when he refused to hand over the child, Sheriff Wally Olson said. The gunman then took the boy away.
"As far as we know there is no relation at all. He just wanted a child for a hostage situation," said Michael Senn, a pastor who helped comfort other traumatized children after the attack.
The bus driver, 66-year-old Charles Poland Jr., was hailed by locals as a hero who gave his life to protect the 21 students aboard the bus. Authorities said most of the students scrambled to the back of the bus when the gunman boarded and said he wanted two boys 6 to 8 years old.
But when the gunman went down the aisle, Poland put his arm out to grab a pole near the front steps of the vehicle, trying to block the suspect, authorities said. That was when the driver was shot four times before the gunman grabbed the child at random and fled.
Neighbors said the suspected gunman once beat a dog to death with a lead pipe, threatened to shoot children for setting foot on his property and patrolled his yard at night with a flashlight and a shotgun.
Mike and Patricia Smith, who live across the street from the suspect and whose two children were on the school bus, said their kids had a run-in with him about 10 months ago.
"My bulldogs got loose and went over there," Patricia Smith said. "The children went to get them. He threatened to shoot them if they came back."
"He's very paranoid," her husband said. "He goes around in his yard at night with a flashlight and shotgun."
Another neighbor, Ronda Wilbur, said the suspect beat her 120-pound dog with a lead pipe for coming onto his side of the dirt road. The dog died a week later.
"He said his only regret was he didn't beat him to death all the way," Wilbur said. "If a man can kill a dog, and beat it with a lead pipe and brag about it, it's nothing until it's going to be people."
The shooting suspect was scheduled to appear in court Wednesday to answer charges that he shot at his neighbors in a dispute last month over a speed bump. Claudia Davis said he yelled and fired shots at her, her son and her baby grandson over damage he claimed their pickup truck did to a makeshift speed bump in the dirt road. No one was hurt.
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