MIDLAND CITY, Ala. (AP) — This town of 2,400 nestled amid peanut farms and cotton fields has long relied on a strong Christian faith, a policy of “love thy neighbor,” and the power of group prayer.
Those beliefs have been strongly in evidence in the six days since a gunman killed a school bus driver, snatched a 5-year-old boy off a bus full of youngsters and fled with his hostage to an underground bunker.
Police say 65-year-old Jim Dykes killed 66-year-old Charles Albert Poland J. before escaping with the kindergartener, who has Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to a state lawmaker who has spent time with his mother.
On Sunday, more than 500 people filed into the Civic Center in the nearby town of Ozark to pay their final tribute to Poland, whom they hailed as a hero for protecting the other children on the bus before he was gunned down and the little boy grabbed.
Fliers imploring people to pray for the little boy were stuck onto the chain-link fence outside of the Midland City Elementary School, where he is enrolled. The fence also has been adorned with black, white, and red ribbons.
Residents have gathered for candlelight vigils on a nightly basis to pray for the child. And people are hopeful the hostage drama will lead to a renewed faith in God and to a closer-knit community.
“This has drawn a lot of people closer to Christ,” said Midland City Mayor Virgil Skipper. “When you get something like this, it always changes things.”
Skipper described Midland City as a place where people work, pray and spend time with their families. He said the only other event that shook up the town this badly was in 1963, when a train crashed into a station wagon in the middle of town and 11 members of the same family were killed. Only a 1-year-old girl survived.
“That was the worst thing I can recall, until this,” Skipper said.
In a community where neighborly love appears to be the guiding force, the bus driver’s death and little boy’s kidnapping have both rattled and saddened residents.
“We’re devastated this could happen here. We don’t know what to think,” said Winifred Ramsey, 77, a retired insurance agent who has lived in Midland City since she was 12. “We never thought anything like this would happen. We’re just slow-paced and love our neighbors.”
Taylor Hodges, the pastor of the Midland City Baptist Church told his congregation on Sunday that, “We’re grieving the loss of a way of life here in Midland City. That’s what it feels like to a lot of people here.”
Despite the trauma, community members had not forgotten their Southern hospitality — and it seemed to be catching.
Across a busy highway from the dirt road leading to Dykes’ house, members of a nearby church cooked barbecue for the news media over the weekend.
On Sunday, four FBI agents brought fried chicken.
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This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (10/15-10/21)
31 photos Launch gallery
1. Just a NY girl with BIG dreams....
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2. HAPPY CHILDREN=QUALITY PARENTING. We don't always see eye to eye on everything and that's normal. We're human beings. But we come together and do it right for what's important, the kids. We are not enemies, we are parents. And we are parents 1st. S/O to @monyettashaw for making Mason's bday memorable. S/O to @itscrystalsmith at home taking care of our other lil' Prince. ❤️❤️❤️ THIS IS WHAT CO-PARENTING LOOKS LIKE. #Blessed #Happy #AboveTheDrama #BiggerThanUs
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3. So happy to finally be able to share with you all that I’m the new Global Brand Ambassador for @Revlon! Follow my day on RevlonSnaps. Yay! Choose Love, Everybody! #RevlonXCiara #chooselove #ad
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4. Glam on point!!!@makeupbymotoko & @shaylinjoneshair #easybreezy @lifetimetv #beachesmovie #january2017 😘
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5. ✨True love ✨📸: @jessiemarrerophotography
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7. Today was not easy..but by the grace of God we all got through it. Words cannot express our gratitude for all of your Prayers, Positive thoughts and Support for us throughout the years. Tommy will be missed but most certainly never forgotten...And PLEASE don't ask "Where's Martin?.." he was there too...just not in this picture. Lol! God bless you all.. #LoveConquersAll #MartinShow
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9. West coast get ready for #RockyHorror. I will be live tweeting again. #letsdothetimewarpagain
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10. #THEKEYS pre order yours now ... Available everywhere #NOV22 #WeTheBest 🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑
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11. We about to ROCK at #KCABlackBall!! All for our life-changing effort to end 🌎 AIDS.
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12. Today's #SNAPJACK is brought to you by @yazzthegreatest 😂😂😂💋💋💋
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13. Damn girl you kinda old to be headed to the Go Go. You coming in at the age they leaving. LMAO
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14. Daddy daycare B-Boxin with @acewellstucker @shopraisingace
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15. #FBF Naviyd & URV "LIL MONSTERS"
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16. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ONE OF THE BIGGEST LEGENDS IN OUR HIPHOP HISTORY! @snoopdogg CONTINUED BLESSING AND LOVE FAMILY!!!!! REAL OG!
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17. Thank you for a beautiful night VSU! Let's do it again! #HOMECOMING
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18. Had a great time this morning with my familia Erica, Griff & Truth!!
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19. Check out my interview on @essence facebook live. #inmyownwords #nycpromo #day2
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20. #She💋 #tbt #TheCoveAtTheAtlantis #DawgPawsAndAll
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21. Bae #retailtherapy
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22. Why me and @coryhardrict got the same pose... and notee... new mouth #naked
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23. When my husband is my personal 'hype-man'! it kills me every time! 💜😂 #WHATNOW #lostfiles📷
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24. Diggy Simmons
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25. Hand full of @jacquieaiche 💙💎💍 @esnail_la 💅🏾
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26. SuperSoulers! You can watch my interview with Carl Lentz live from my Facebook page, tomorrow at 11a ET| 8a PT. #SuperSoulSunday
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27. 💋 .. When the friendship is easy like Sunday morning. ☀️
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28. Sunday mornings are the best........... hugs and cuddles with my angel
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29. #huggar16 #hellohuggars
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30. My gym is everywhere!.. #RnBMoney #TheGeneral 📸: @twelvepastseven
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31. Nothing I would rather be doing... Rocko setting up our movie, Romelō working on a puzzle & Laiyah singing and sharing all she's learning at school... I'm so grateful for the joy they've brought into my life ... Praying for peace , joy & love in the home of EVERY family ♥️ #HeadScarfPJSunday LOL 😂
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