1976 Chowchilla kidnapping victims fight Frederick Woods' release

November 4, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Painful memories are resurfacing for the victims of the 1976 Chowchilla bus kidnapping. The second accomplice, Frederick Woods, will have a parole hearing at the end of the month. Earlier this year, Richard Schoenfeld was released to his family after he was convicted of kidnapping and burying 26 children and their bus driver in a moving van.

Images of being trapped underground in that dark moving van still haunt Jodi Medrano. "It was horrific. I always called it 'the toilet' in there because it stunk. It was claustrophobic, all the little kids were just frightened and it collapsed inside."

In 1976 Frederick Woods, Richard Schoenfeld and his brother James, kidnapped 26 kids and their bus driver, Ed Ray, from Chowchilla. The three forced everyone including then 10-year-old Lynda Carrejo Lavendeira into a van and buried them in a Livermore gravel pit.

"Little five year olds, ten year olds begging, please sirs let us go out. We miss our mommies and daddies, please we'll be good. Kids were throwing whatever money they had. We'll give you anything you want and we just got pounds on the door, shut up in there," said Linda Carrejo-Lavendeira of Fresno.

The children would spend 16 terrifying hours buried alive. Investigators say the men planned to demand ransom money, but before they could Ed Ray and some kids managed to escape by clawing their way through the dirt and got help. "When we saw that light that was the best light in the whole wide world," said Medrano.

Now that traumatizing past is being dug up yet again. Over the weekend some of the victims gathered at that same school bus where their ordeal started. They reunited because they are shocked their captor, Frederick Woods may soon walk out of prison.

"I am more angry with the law," said Madrano.

On November 28th, Woods is scheduled to attend a parole hearing. The news is especially upsetting because in June, Richard Schoenfeld was granted parole.

Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Jill Klinge says based on her research, Woods should not be released. "This could have been the biggest mass murder case, and there is no way the kidnappers could assure that they wouldn't die. That it wasn't going to cave in."

Decades later the women are still fighting for closure. But they're finding comfort in each other by revisiting that bus and leaving messages about the man who saved them from their darkest memories -- bus driver Ed Ray.


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