DALE COUNTY, Ala. (WALA) - Hearts are heavy in Dale County as the community rallied together to pray for peace as a 6-year-old boy continues to be held hostage.
At least a dozen candlelight vigils and prayer services were held simultaneously in Midland City, Wednesday, January 30. Many said they were praying for a safe ending to the crisis.
"That's heart breaking. It breaks my heart to know that a 6-year-old little boy is down there," said former Dale County High School student Joshua Tucker. "I still can't fully grasp how this happened right down the road from my house, less than a mile."
Hostage negotiators, FBI, and several other agencies have been working nearly 48 hours in pouring rain and whipping winds to rescue the 6-year-old, who they said was abducted from his school bus January 29.
Investigators said a man stormed the bus and demanded two children between the ages of 6 and 8. When the bus driver didn't comply, the suspect shot him numerous times.
The bus driver, who has been identified as Charles Poland, died from his injuries.
Investigators said the suspect then grabbed a child and took him to a manmade, underground bunker on a mobile home property.
Authorities have not officially released the suspect's name. However, neighbors said they know the man well. Some described him as a paranoid older man who spends his days digging in the yard and patrolling his property with a shotgun.
"He's been there about two and a half years in a little travel trailer and has a weird bunker thing," said Ronda Wilbur, who lives directly across the street from the suspect. "He digs and moves things of dirt day after day."
Wilbur said the man beat her dog to death with a lead pipe in the past and threatened to shoot the neighborhood children for getting too close to his yard.
Authorities told FOX10 they have been in constant communication with the man and the 6-year-old boy through a PVC pipe that leads into the bunker. They said the small space is fully equipped with electricity and television.
Negotiators were able to deliver coloring books and food for the young boy.
Groups have said they will continue to gather for as long as they need to, until the crisis is resolved.
"Just let everybody knows that we have faith around here," said Tucker. "We can pray to God and all come together. Something good is going to happen."
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