Photo Of The Day

Photo:  JAMES PALMER ? Associated Press

Photo: JAMES PALMER ? Associated Press

School Bus Kidnapping

‘The Memories Never Stop’

?In this July 20, 1976 photo, officials remove a truck buried at a rock quarry in Livermore, Calif., in which 26 Chowchilla school children and their bus driver, Ed Ray were held captive.?Ray, the school bus driver was hailed as a hero for helping the students escape, after three men kidnapped the group and buried them underground.

On July 15, 1976, a busload of children aged 5 to 14, and their school bus driver, Ed Ray (then 55), were abducted on a country road in Madera County about 4 p.m. on their way back from a swim outing at the fairgrounds.? The bus was later found empty covered with bamboo and brush in a drainage ditch nine miles west of town.? The victims, 19 girls and seven boys, along with Ray, were driven around for 11 hours in two vans before being entombed in a moving van buried in a Livermore rock quarry.

After 16 hours underground in a 8? X 16? space, the victims dug their way out and were found in a remote area near the Shadow Cliffs East Bay Regional Park.? They were then taken to the nearby Santa Rita Rehabilitation Center, where they were pronounced in good condition.? The children and their bus driver returned safely to Chowchilla by a police escorted bus shortly before dawn on July 17, 1976.

Investigators dug up the van and learned it apparently had been buried in the quarry in November 1975.? The 100-acre Portola Valley estate of the quarry owner, Frederick Nickerson Woods, was searched.? Woods? son, Fred Newhall Woods IV, 24, was missing.? Authorities issued an all-points bulletin for young Woods and his two friends, James Schoenfeld, 24 and his brother, Richard Schoenfeld, 22, sons of a wealthy podiatrist.? Officials said they discovered a rough draft of a $5 million ransom note on the Woods estate.

They forced the driver and children, to climb through a hole in the ground into a moving van buried in a rock quarry. After sealing the hole, the kidnappers took off, leaving their hostages buried alive.

Ray and several of the older children were able to stack mattresses high enough to climb out of an opening at the top of the buried van. Ray and the kids pushed open a metal lid covered with about 200 pounds of industrial batteries cleared away some debris and dug through 3 ft. of dirt then freed the rest of the children after 16 hours underground.

The kidnappers were caught, convicted, and sentenced to life. But after the former sheriff, prosecutor and judge in the case lobbied for parole arguing that murderers had served less time-one, Richard Schoenfeld, 58, was set free June 20, 2012. His release has stirred terrifying memories.?

Jodi Heffington Medrano, salon owner, Chowchilla. Age then: 10 They commandeered the bus with shotguns. Richard poked a gun in my belly. “What did I do?” I asked. He said, “Shut up.” One said, “Tell me your name or you are never going to see your mommy and daddy again.”

Rebecca Reynolds Dailey, Brookville, Pa. Age: 9

They had panty hose over their faces. I was so scared. We could hear them shoveling dirt. We knew they weren’t coming back. We screamed until we were worn out.

Lynda Carrejo Labendeira, teacher, Fresno. Age: 10?

They left cereal, peanut butter and bread, but it was gone quickly. There was no ventilation, just a battery fan that died. It was like a grave, dark. Everyone had messed their pants, sweaty little bodies in 110 degrees. My sister passed out.

Michelle Robison Bishop, McDonald’s worker, Chowchilla. Age: 11

When we were buried, I comforted a girl named Monica. She was just 5. I [later] named my daughter Monica. It reminds me I did something right.

Driver Ed Ray, who died May 17, 2012 at age 91, emerged as a hero, rallying the children and directing their escape.


He was a courageous man. He kept 26 scared children in line and made us feel safe.


We started stacking mattresses. Older kids started digging.


We were as afraid to get out as to stay in; were they out there? After all of us were out, we started walking. [Finally] a man drove up and said, “Oh my God. You’re those kids.”

About five kids testified against Schoenfeld, his brother James and the third kidnapper, Frederick Woods.


[Afterward] I felt ashamed. I became depressed. I didn’t want to be touched. I gained 50 lbs.

Psychiatrist Lenore Terr conducted interviews with the young victims and followed up several years later; in 1981 she published a study on childhood posttraumatic stress disorder in The American Journal of Psychiatry.


They had a distorted idea about their future. They didn’t count on a good career, getting married or a long life. They felt they would be killed, that another bad thing would happen. Some ended up in prison, others with drug and mental-health problems.

Larry Park, group home director, Merced. Age: 6

For much of his life, Park battled schizophrenia and addiction; sober now, he counsels others.

After the kidnapping I started to hear a voice in my head. When I was 11, it turned violent. I fantasized about killing my kidnappers. I’ve spent a lifetime blaming the kidnapping for everything that went wrong in my life. I don’t know if that’s fair. But the kidnapping blew all the problems I had before wide open.

Jennifer Brown Hyde, Nashville. Accounting assistant. Age: 9

I still sleep with a night light, can’t ride a subway or go underground.

Medrano’s son Matthew Medrano, 13

I understand why my mom has so many restrictions, why I can’t ride a bus. One time I took one; she waited for me like I was gone my whole life.

The Chowchilla City Council recently voted to rename the City’s Sports & Leisure Park after Mr. Edward Ray. Edward is regarded as a local hero from his role as the driver of the school bus with the children who were kidnapped. The kidnapping launched Chowchilla into national headlines and created a day that many still would like to forget.

“I’m glad no one was seriously injured physically but that doesn’t mean people weren’t seriously injured emotionally.? Had we not gotten out alive there wouldn’t be this conversation”, said survivor Lynda Carrejo Labendeira.

Ray retired four years after the incident and bought the school bus from the district.? He was honored throughout his life for his heroic actions, and passed away in 2012 at the age of 91. Glen Ray, (son), said he appreciates the city?s effort to honor his father, though he noted his father never considered himself a hero.

?My father was a very simple man. He never thought that this was a heroic act,? he said. ?This was his job. These kids were entrusted in his care, and it?s his job to get them home safely.?

One of the men who was involved in the high jacking, Richard Schoenfeld, was released from prison in 2012.? The two other men involved, James Schoenfeld and Fredrick Woods are still in prison with parole hearings pending.? Woods is scheduled to go before the parole board later this year.,,20633222,00.html