So when Dykes got on the bus Tuesday afternoon, it didn't seem unusual to her sons, Jesse and Jackson, she said.
Neighbors have described Dykes as "anti-government" and abusive, with several describing run-ins, including one where they claimed he pulled a gun.
Tim Byrd, chief investigator with the Dale County Sheriff's Office, told the Southern Poverty Law Center's Hatewatch that Dykes was a "survivalist type" with "anti-America" views.
"His friends and his neighbors stated that he did not trust the government, that he was a Vietnam vet, and that he had PTSD," Byrd told the civil rights group. "He was standoffish, didn't socialize or have any contact with anybody."
Still, Miller said she can't reconcile the man she knows as her neighbor with the one accused of killing a bus driver and abducting a boy.
"I really in my heart don't believe that he intends to hurt that little boy," she said. "I think that he may have something to say and he wants people to hear him. I'm not sure what that is. But I don't think he intends to hurt that little boy."
'That's a hero'
Even as authorities search for answers behind the killing and kidnapping, there is no question to Midland City residents that the bus driver was a hero.
Poland was a gentle Bible-reading man who could not stand to discipline the children on his bus because it hurt his heart, the Dothan Eagle newspaper reported.
He had worked as a full-time bus driver for four years, shuttling children between their homes and schools.
"There was a laughter and a love that he had for the kids," his brother-in-law Melven Skipper told CNN affiliate WDHM, reflecting on the regular conversations he'd have about "my youngins'."
"They were his youngins', when he had them on the bus."
The state's governor echoed that sentiment: "He did his job -- he protected those children," Bentley said.
"He stood in that place, and when that man came to take two children, he said no. And he lost his life because of that ... he did his job, and I'm proud of him as the governor but I'm just proud of him as a human being."
Poland will be memorialized Saturday night at a visitation service, followed by his funeral Sunday afternoon at the Ozark Civic Center.
"You couldn't give nothing greater than your life for a kid or anyone else," Skipper said.
"That's a hero."