The 1976 Chowchilla Kidnapping: Survivors Share Their Stories and the Lasting Impact of Childhood Trauma
In the summer of 1976, three masked men from wealthy families kidnapped a school bus full of 26 children, aged 5 to 14, and their bus driver, Frank Edward “Ed” Ray, on their way home from summer school in the small town of Chowchilla, California. The incident is remembered as one of the largest kidnappings in the history of the United States.
Jodi Heffington, then 10, was one of the children on the bus. In a never-before-seen interview, she spoke in detail about her memories from the horrific experience. She recalled that the kidnapper held a shotgun to her stomach and she thought he was going to shoot her. Jennifer Brown Hyde, a former student on the bus, and Larry Park, who was just 6 years old at the time, also shared their memories of the ordeal in an interview.
The kidnappers placed the children and the bus driver in a box truck trailer before attempting to bury them alive 12 feet below the surface. After enduring horrific conditions in what felt like an underground prison, the children and their bus driver escaped by digging their way out, after being buried for nearly 16 hours.
Instead of taking the survivors to a hospital or hotel, police decided to put them all back on a bus and transported them to the closest place that could hold them – the Santa Rita Rehabilitation Center — a local jail. After being questioned for four hours, they were allowed to go home.
Many people felt that sending the children to Disneyland – the “Happiest Place on Earth” – would help them to forget the trauma they had suffered at that time.
Fred Woods and the Schoenfeld brothers, Richard and James, were eventually given life sentences, with the possibility of parole. This meant they would have a parole hearing every one to two years. Jill Klinge, an assistant district attorney for Alameda County, told “48 Hours” the parole hearings were extremely painful for the survivors. Jodi Heffington went to nearly all of the parole hearings and even testified at some.
Despite the fact that none of the children had any physical ailments resulting from the abduction, they all had endured an inconceivable emotional trauma. In 1976, there was limited knowledge regarding the treatment of childhood trauma. In many instances, parents did not have much knowledge of or were not supportive of therapy.
0. “1976 Chowchilla kidnapping” Wikipedia, 20 May. 2012, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1976_Chowchilla_kidnapping
1. “48 HOURS to Explore The Chowchilla Kidnapping This Weekend” Broadway World, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.broadwayworld.com/bwwtv/article/48-HOURS-to-Explore-The-Chowchilla-Kidnapping-This-Weekend-20230316
2. “Remembering the Chowchilla kidnapping: A survivor's story” Sand Hills Express, 17 Mar. 2023, https://sandhillsexpress.com/cbs_national/remembering-the-chowchilla-kidnapping-a-survivors-story-cbsid40935369
3. “What to Watch Saturday: 48 HOURS interviews survivor of Chowchilla Kidnapping case” Charlotte Observer, 18 Mar. 2023, https://www.charlotteobserver.com/entertainment/tv-movies/article273314340.html
4. “Chowchilla Kidnapping victims: List of people who survived” Sportskeeda, 18 Mar. 2023, https://www.sportskeeda.com/pop-culture/chowchilla-kidnapping-victims-list-people-survived
5. “Remembering the Chowchilla kidnapping: A never-before-seen interview with a survivor” CBS News, 17 Mar. 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/chowchilla-bus-kidnapping-survivor-never-before-seen-interview/