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May 28, 2013  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Alabama district’s chief discusses tragedy, recovery

In the months since bus driver Charles Poland was gunned down and a student was taken hostage, Dale County Schools is “doing better with time,” Superintendent Donny Bynum says. Here, he reveals insights on the heartrending episode and describes what has helped his district in the healing process.

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As you mentioned, the students had clearly been trained well. Have you made any changes since this incident, in terms of training or policies?
Not really. The thing about it is, in the school business, we’re used to our adversaries, but in this situation, it was not an adversary. This guy, he befriended Mr. Poland. The day before, on the bus video, you can hear the conversation: He said, “Do you like broccoli? I’ll have you some broccoli tomorrow.” And then on Tuesday, when he stepped up on the bus with the broccoli and handed him the note [asking for children], I guess in his mind, he thought Mr. Poland was just going to turn two or three kids over to him.

But as far as our training, we do stress to our folks to be vigilant and not to carry on conversations at bus pickups or drop-off points. We don’t want to be in a bubble. Certainly if little Johnny forgot his lunchbox, we want to take that. But for any detailed conversation, we need to have that in a different place: either at the school or the district office.

I read that the perpetrator had had some communication with Mr. Poland about his driveway.
The dirt road that this happened on is a private road that is not county maintained. It was not a thoroughfare; you had to turn around. This guy [Dykes], he cleaned the turnaround spot with a shovel. The day before the shooting, after the conversation between Mr. Poland and Mr. Dykes, the kids asked, “What did he want?” “What did he want?” And Mr. Poland said, “He’s the guy that cleaned this turnaround spot with his shovel during the Christmas holiday.”

I’ve been there; I’ve seen the site. It is an incredible masterpiece as far as how he did it with a shovel. It’s very methodical, very well thought out. And that was the only turnaround on that private road. But since then, the bus does not go up that road.

Tell me about some of your initial thoughts when you first found out that day what was happening.
Disbelief. Shock. The magnitude of when we arrived to the scene, and to see those children — it gives me chill bumps to think of what they witnessed. We had 21 students on there, from first grade up to 12th grade. I could not get my mind off of them for nights.

We stayed at the hostage situation every night from Tuesday to the following Monday, and not only did I visualize what those children saw, but also the bravery of Mr. Poland. The FBI agents who had viewed the video [of the standoff on the bus] — I haven’t viewed the video yet — said that the action Mr. Poland took was incredible.

Also, I couldn’t get my mind off of Ethan and his mother. His father is deceased. Him being in that bunker, [I was] thinking, what is his mother going through?

I had the honor to speak at Mr. Poland’s funeral the following Sunday. That was an incredible task. God gave me power to stand up there and say the right words, and I was awestruck at the strength of Mrs. Poland and her family.

And I’m telling you this: I cannot say enough about our community. We all felt like we were captive. We all felt like we were part of the Poland family. Our community reached out not only in food and physical support, but prayer. It was just unreal how we as a community came together.

It sounds like faith has been a big part of getting through this.
There is no doubt. We couldn’t make it without God. I’ve had an opportunity to speak at a couple of places, and they would ask me, “How did you endure?” “How did you as a district stand up?” I said, “Listen, we didn’t do this. God did this. God did every bit of it.” We could certainly feel the prayers.

I’ll long remember this: Mrs. Poland, she looked in those FBI agents’ eyes and told them, “Every day that my husband and I were married [43 years] … we always told each other we loved each other.” And she looked at them straight in their eyes, and she said, “You tell your wives that every day, because you are not promised another minute.” And those grown men, while she was talking to them, they had tears. We all had tears coming down from our eyes, because she was just speaking from her heart.

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