Chowchilla school bus kidnapper released after court order

FRESNO, Calif.

His release comes more than 35 years after he was convicted of kidnapping and burying 26 children and their bus driver in a semi-trailer.

"We were promised they would never get out, they would never see society again," said Lynda Carrejo Lavendeira, one of the victims.

For more than three decades Lynda, her three sisters and 22 others have been trying to recover from the most frightening 16 hours of their lives.

Lynda told Action News she vividly remembers the kidnapping and the children crying out for their parents. "All we got was a pound on the door 'shut up in there, be quiet... If you cooperate you won't get hurt,'" she recalled. "I see them with their stocking masks smashing their faces in and their gun pointed at all of us kids."

Schoenfeld, his brother Jim and their friend Fred Woods kidnapped the school children and their bus driver from Chowchilla 36 years ago.

The trio drove the victims about a hundred miles away, to a quarry in Livermore. The victims were then locked in a van they had buried there. But, before the kidnappers even called in their five million dollar ransom to police the bus driver and some kids escaped and ran for help.

The three kidnappers were given life sentences.

"It's been with us all these years," said Irene Carrejo. Now Schoenfeld's release is weighing heavy on Irene.

"I'm caught in the middle," she said. "I'm having a really hard time with this."

Schoenfeld's brother, John, said his brothers, Richard and Jim, have paid their debts to society.

John said his brothers are different people than they were when they kidnapped the children. "My brothers are both very sorry to all the victims and their families but there's nothing they can do to make it any better right now, so now they just have to go on with their lives," he said.

"He's still the same person, he's still Richard Schoenfeld," Lynda said. "He's still the same guy who took a bus full of children, buried them alive and did not come back."

While Lynda and many of the other victims haven't forgiven the Schoenfeld brothers and Woods, Larry Park has.

"I was given my freedom through Christ," Park said. "I want to stress that, it doesn't let them off the hook, but it let me off the hook to forgive them."

The family said Schoenfeld will soon begin to look for work. He will live in the Bay Area. Authorities will electronically track him 24 hours a day.

The Schoenfelds are willing to apologize directly to their victims. Park said he hopes to one day meet the trio of kidnappers. But the Carrejo sisters say they want nothing more to do with them.

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