OZARK, Ala. -- The service for the school bus driver had the feel of a state funeral.
Members of the local high school R.O.T.C., in their olive dress uniforms, stood in the parking lot of the Ozark Civic Center, directing the scores of cars into overflow parking lots. Sixty-two bikers with the Patriot Guard Riders rumbled into the streets around the civic center, and a half dozen of the riders flanked the entrance, holding American flags aloft.
"We come to funerals for veterans and first responders," said a spokesman for the Patriot Guard Riders, who gave his name as Mouse.
Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66, was a veteran. Last week he was a first responder.
On Tuesday afternoon, Jimmy Lee Dykes, to whom Mr. Poland had given a gift of yard eggs and homemade jam days earlier, boarded Mr. Poland's bus and handed him a note demanding that he hand over two young children. Mr. Poland opened the emergency door in the rear of the bus and blocked Mr. Dykes's way as the children escaped. Mr. Dykes shot him four times and took a 5-year-old boy named Ethan, whom he has been holding in an underground bunker ever since.
Twenty children got away.
"You didn't deserve to die, though you died knowing that you kept everyone safe," wrote a student named Courtney H., whose letter the school superintendent read at Mr. Poland's service. "Being on your bus has been the best times of my life."
The hundreds of attendees came from all over the Wiregrass, as the southeastern corner of Alabama is known, a quiet, rural region where the main lines of work are growing peanuts or building helicopters. Neighbors of the Polands came, along with bus drivers from Florida; black-ribbon-draped school buses lined the route to the cemetery. Many came from the places in between, like Echo and Wicksburg and Skipperville.
"He was a county bus driver and I have a brother who's a coach in the county and an alternate bus driver, so he knew him," said Theresa Locke, 62, of Ozark. "People in this area, everybody's connected in some way."
Mr. Poland has been hailed as a national hero, as the speakers noted. But he was also a quiet and simple man whose wife, known as Mrs. Jan, had his coffee waiting for him every afternoon when he returned from his bus route. He would have been uncomfortable with all the attention and pomp, one speaker said. Within his coffin, which was draped with a flag, Mr. Poland was wearing no tie.
A dozen miles to the south, Mr. Dykes and Ethan remained in the underground bunker.
Law enforcement officials have kept all but silent on their efforts to rescue the boy. Uncertainty also surrounds Mr. Dykes's motives, other than what neighbors, as well as people familiar with Mr. Dykes's statements in the early hours of the kidnapping, said was a desire to air his grievances about the government, among other things.
Some neighbors have speculated that the timing was related to a coming court appearance; Mr. Dykes had been arrested on suspicion of firing a gun to scare a neighbor in December and was scheduled to be in court last Wednesday, the morning after his raid on the bus. But a seven-page letter that Mr. Dykes wrote by hand and circulated among witnesses and others involved in the case suggests little of what was to come.
In the letter, Mr. Dykes denied the charges, and he denied even having a handgun, saying it was the neighbor who should be facing legal action for driving recklessly on his property. He wrote at length about the effect of erosion on his land. But while Mr. Dykes was liberal with insults and charges of harassment, his anger was limited to the neighbors in the dispute.
At Mr. Poland's service, the Rev. Ray Layton asked what may have led to the violence of last week. Guns were not to blame, he said, but a nationwide movement away from God and prayer. He urged a change and believed it was possible, even in Mr. Dykes's case. When Mr. Dykes confronted Mr. Poland, Mr. Layton said, some may think that the Devil won.
"But," he added, "I'm here to tell you the Devil picked on the wrong person this time."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.