Remembering Chowchilla’s Kidnapping: Never-Before-Seen Interviews with Survivors


In the summer of 1976, three wealthy young men kidnap a school bus full of small town children. Chowchilla, California. Her 26 children, ages 5 to her 14, and their bus driver were on their way home from summer school when they were taken hostage at gunpoint. This is believed to be the largest kidnapping in US history.

Jody Heffington was one of the kids on the bus. She was 10 years old at the time. In a never-before-seen interview, Heffington elaborated on her recollections from her terrifying experience.

Survivors of the Chauchiravas Kidnapping
10-year-old Jody Heffington, a survivor of the 1976 Chowchilla Bus kidnapping.

Alameda County DA Office

“And this guy put a stocking over his head with a gun and said, ‘Open the door.’ 9c* on CBS, streaming on Paramount+.

The kidnappers drove the frightened children and bus driver Ed Ray over 100 miles in two locked, darkened vans, taking them out one by one.

Heffington remembered that moment. “They took the next child out and closed the door. But when they opened the door, you didn’t see them.

The kidnappers buried him alive in an underground truck trailer at the quarry. Amazingly, after enduring terrifying conditions that felt like an underground prison, the kids and the bus driver dug a hole to escape. They were underground for nearly 16 hours.

But instead of taking the survivors to hospitals and hotels, the police decided to put everyone on a bus and transfer them to the closest place that could accommodate them, the Santa Rita Rehabilitation Center. They were interrogated for four hours and eventually brought back home. Mr. Heffington painfully recalled being reunited with his family.

Most of the children suffered no physical harm from the abduction, but they experienced unimaginable mental ordeal. At the time, many felt that sending children to Disneyland, “the happiest place on earth,” would help them forget the trauma they had endured. Larry Park, who was 6 when he was six, told 48 Hours:

Chowchilla children at Disneyland
Five weeks after being buried alive, Chowchilla’s brawny children and bus driver Ed Ray were hailed as heroes. There was also a trip to Disneyland.

Jennifer Brown Hyde

However, it was not so simple. Many of the children struggled to move on and were traumatized for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, in 1976, little was known about how to treat childhood trauma. Parents often did not know much about or encourage treatment.

Heffington told 48 Hours that she struggled all her life to find peace of mind. “I think that’s what made me not a good daughter, a good sister, a good aunt, and not a particularly good mother. I’m trying to be one of those things. I can’t go back. No matter how hard I try, no matter what you do, you can’t break it

Kidnappers Fred Woods and brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld were sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. That means they will have a parole hearing for him every year or every two years for him. Jill Cringe was the assistant district attorney for Alameda County. She told 48 Hours that parole hearings were extremely painful for survivors.

Jody Heffington at a parole hearing
Jody Heffington (right) attended nearly all of the three convicted kidnappers’ parole hearings at the 2018 Fred Woods parole hearings.

George Osterkamp

A total of more than 60 parole hearings have been held to date for all three kidnappers. Jody Heffington went to nearly all of them and even testified in some. “It’s excruciating and the aftermath is never good,” she told 48 Hours, but she said she went because she wanted to make sure the kidnappers were behind bars. I was.

Heffington and other survivors watched helplessly as Richard Schoenfeld was paroled in 2012, followed by James Schoenfeld in 2015.

Jody Heffington
Jody Heffington

CBS news

Heffington passed away in January 2021. she was 55 years old. Fourteen months later, Fred Woods, the last of the three kidnappers, was presented to her 18th parole board. He was granted parole.

Heffington left his son Matthew Medrano behind, but he wishes his mother’s voice was heard.

Program notes*: Due to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on CBS, the “48 hours” may be delayed for Eastern and Central time zones.


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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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