Chowchilla school bus kidnapper's parole angers survivors: 'Mistake for the whole state of California'

Frederick Woods has been freed from prison decades after the harrowing 1976 California school bus hijacking

It was a July afternoon in 1976 when Frederick Woods pulled off the largest mass kidnapping for ransom in U.S. history.

Now, more than four decades later, Woods is a free man. The 70-year-old was quietly released from prison on Aug. 25, after serving 46 years for the hijacking of a school bus filled with 26 children and their driver in Chowchilla, California, on July 15, 1976.

The release of Woods – who had been denied parole 17 times – drew mixed reactions from his victims, many of whom have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder to this day.

"I thought it would be a mistake for the whole state of California if he was to be released," said Jennifer Brown Hyde, who was 9 years old when Woods and two accomplices kidnapped the children and demanded a $5 million ransom.

Fredrick Woods

Fredrick Woods in November 2015. (California Department of Corrections via AP, File)


"I did not feel that he has changed his mentality and his way of thinking. I just feel that he feels that he's above the law," Hyde said.

Larry Park school photo

Chowchilla school bus hijacking victim Larry Park at age 6. (Larry Park)

Others, like Larry Park, who was 6 years old at the time of the abduction, expressed forgiveness and even support of Woods’ release from the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, California.

"I want to have steak with Fred. I want to take him to a steakhouse and treat him to dinner and just talk to him about what this year has been like…"

— Larry Park, kidnapping victim

"I wanted to be there. I just wanted to hug his neck on his way out to his freedom and send him off," Park told Fox News.

"I want to have steak with Fred. I want to take him to a steakhouse and treat him to dinner and just talk to him about what this year has been like, what his plans are and just get a chance to catch up with him and see how he's doing," he added.

Chowchilla families

Families of the 26 children who were abducted from their school bus, along with the bus driver, awaiting word of their fate outside police headquarters in Chowchilla, July 16, 1976. (AP Photo/Jim Palmer, File)


"He's been in jail over 40 years. And so, they took him to the beach and he took his shoes off and walked across the sand and he waded in the water… I can just imagine how Fred felt standing on that beach looking over the ocean," said Park, who spoke with Woods’ attorney.

Chowchilla kidnap victims

Many of survivors of the Chowchilla kidnapping gathering at the Ed Ray Day celebration on August 22, 1976. Ray, the school bus driver, is pictured back row center next to Michael Marshall.  (Jennifer Brown Hyde)

The horrific nightmare was described in detail by the survivors in the Fox News Investigative Unit podcast, "Nightmare in Chowchilla: The School Bus Kidnapping."

Three masked gunmen, Woods and brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld, stormed a school bus in the small farming town of Chowchilla, kidnapping 26 children and their bus driver. The men, all in their 20s, drove them to a dry river bed, where they hid the bus and forced their hostages into two windowless vans. The children, ages 5 to 14, were then driven 100 miles away to a rock quarry in Livermore, where they were buried alive in a truck trailer 12 feet underground for some 16 hours.  



Richard and James Schoenfeld were released from prison in 2012 and 2015, respectively.

Woods was not a model prisoner. He illegally ran several businesses from behind bars, including a gold mine and a Christmas tree farm.

Chowchilla kidnappers

Fred Woods, James Schoenfeld and Richard Schoenfeld pictured in custody. (Alameda County D.A.'s Office)


"There will never, ever be full closure. It's a lifelong struggle in some regards. I still sleep with a nightlight. I wouldn't say that I have forgiven my kidnappers, but I live a wonderful life. Not because of them, but because of what I have been able to overcome no matter what they have thrown at us," Hyde said.

"There will never, ever be full closure. It's a lifelong struggle in some regards. I still sleep with a nightlight."

— Jennifer Brown Hyde, kidnapping victim

Mike Marshall, who was 14 years old and the oldest student on the bus, was credited with digging the others out of the underground tomb in the Livermore Rock Quarry, where the kidnappers had hidden them.

"I've just been so freaking emotional these days, and I can't figure out why," Marshall said. "I never really felt like they were going to spend the rest of their lives in prison. I didn't think it would bother me as much as it did, but looking at the positive side, maybe it'll all kind of go away now. They won't have to bring it up all the time and we just move on."

Fred Woods

Chowchilla kidnapping ringleader Fred Woods in an undated photo. (Alameda County D.A.'s Office)

Attorneys for Woods were not immediately available for comment when contacted by Fox News.  

In 2012, Woods responded to a Fox News producer who wrote him requesting an interview. In that letter, Woods wrote, "I don’t have the words to say how sorry I am to everyone who was and continues to be affected by my crime. Although I know there is no apology in the world that could make up for what I did, I would still like to make the effort and for all to know that they have nothing to be afraid of from me or in their future."


After Woods’ release, senior correspondent and host Claudia Cowan revisited the story in a new bonus podcast episode of "Nightmare in Chowchilla: The School Bus Kidnapping," and spoke to survivors to get their thoughts on Woods’ newfound freedom.