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.
Also On Black America Web:
This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (11/26-12/2)
30 photos Launch gallery
1. Little Legend and Puddy 😍😍😍😍
1 of 30
2. "You on point Phife?" "all the time,Tip". 💥 #bannedfromnormal
2 of 30
3. Vegan! The Impossible burger at Crossroads
3 of 30
4. Lawrence #BeforeandAfterEpisodes 1-4: 184lbs 13% body fatEpisode 8: 196lbs 8% body fat S/O @coachdaveboxing with the works outs and @kildareriordan with the nutrition
4 of 30
5. Jus haaaanngin out
5 of 30
6. Meanwhile back at home in Atlanta GA someone mad they not on the 🛳. 😳
6 of 30
7. No limits... Photo cred: Chris Bridges @ludacris
7 of 30
8. new new
8 of 30
9. Apparently my 260lbs is too much for the actual vines in the Hawaiian jungles to hold me without breaking and me falling hundreds of feet. So for safety purposes, I'm forced to swing thru #Jumanjj on wires strong enough to hold 12 adult buffaloes and 1 adult Rock. #OnSet #Jumanji #IronicallyIEatBuffaloDailyForLunch #MoreManThanNatureKnowsWhatToDoWith
9 of 30
10. hey ma! 🎎#wcw 💙
10 of 30
11. Surprise visit to our factories!!! #GoodAmerican #USA
11 of 30
12 of 30
13. Peachy Keen 🔥✨⚡️
13 of 30
14. If this don't look thankful I don't know what does. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. #UltraBlessed #24kMagic #SweetPotatoFly
14 of 30
15. Late nights @nbcmarlon with the writers... we in here!!!
15 of 30
16. There goes my baaaaaaaaabbbbyyyyy #QueenKingMagic!!! We're up to something! Ira BIG!!! Stay out our buisness -
16 of 30
17. You want to win every game you play but when you come home to these faces... who cares. #ILoveYouGirls best part of my day, everyday!
17 of 30
18. Steady,steady..... full size jenga.. "I got this one "???? Or do I ?
18 of 30
19. Cornrows kind of day 😉@dontaysavoy2 you convinced me and I love. ❤️️
19 of 30
20. #BrotherlyLove #tbt
20 of 30
21 of 30
22. #basel #TeamLOVE @kingcombs
22 of 30
23. Just introduced a special screening of @directher 's groundbreaking (must see) documentary @13thfilm with my brother @themichaelealy | @unitedblackout #blackoutblackfriday
23 of 30
24. Me & Vanessa Williams giving #DuckLips #Pose on the set of #DaytimeDivas @vh1 - Coming Soon to a tv near you. Lol. - My make up done by @makeupsurgeon
24 of 30
25. This picture just makes me wanna praise the Lord, you hear me!!!!!! Yes Lord brotha #TEDDYCAMPBELL What a #man !!! You are everything right on this picture husband ......... #gorgeous #stylish #classy #strong #masculine #king #sexy #debonair #gentlemenstyle And that #bible in your hand just seals the deal for me (probably cause i know that, that is what helped you become just as amazing as you look😘). While my heart and mind experiences the goodness of God at #church on Sundays, my eyes experiences the goodness of Teddy😍. Amen somebody🙌🏽. "Bless the Lord oh my soul and all that is within me bless his holy name" #myman #myhusband #goodman #blackman #dapperman #godlyman #goodfather #mybestfriend
25 of 30
26. Yesterday was my mama's 53rd birthday!!!!! Got to celebrate with her all day. If this is what I have to look forward to I can't wait. Looking like a soft bucket a cocoa butter. Yaaaaaaaaaas! 😍😍😍 love you mommy!
26 of 30
27. "Shout out to @PureAtlanta for getting the family right"....I'm loving this jogger. 😍😍
27 of 30
28. This pic warms my heart ❤️ #myLogiebeans and aunt aunt umba @itowandabraxton 😘
28 of 30
29. You will always be my baby😜. #HappyBirthdayReginae #mybaby18
29 of 30
30. GC "Gods Child" Red on Red SweatSuit available now at www.MonicaApparel.com ... Take Your Crown wherever you go!! I'm pictured in a Medium... Go to the site now for other options ... cc: @trukernell
30 of 30