It was a sultry afternoon in 1976 when bus driver Ed Ray stopped his school bus to investigate a broken-down van.
In the next 36 hours, the events of what would become known as the Chowchilla kidnapping would capture national attention, inspire several books and earn the kidnappers a permanent spot on the list of most ill-conceived crimes.
After they hijacked the school bus, three kidnappers drove Ray and the 26 children in his bus to a holding cell: a moving van buried in a Livermore rock quarry. Before a ransom deal could be struck, all 27 victims escaped while their captors napped.
On Wednesday, three decades after the crime, one of the kidnappers was released from prison and is living with his mother in Mountain View. Richard Schoenfeld, now 57, will wear a GPS monitor 24 hours a day.
In a statement, Mountain View Mayor Mike Kasperzak said the state and courts no longer view Schoenfeld as a threat to society:
“I am confident of our police department and know they will appropriately monitor him to ensure the safety of our community.”
Richard and his brother James Schoenfeld, as well as friend Fred Woods devised their crime in hopes of receiving $5 million in ransom money. Despite coming from affluent families along the Peninsula, James told the Chronicle in 2001 that the 20-somethings felt inadequate:
“We didn’t meet our parents’ expectations and we had a pile of debt on top of that. It put a lot of stress on us. We didn’t want to tell our parents and lose face.”
In 1977, all three pleaded guilty to kidnap for ransom and were sentenced to life in prison without parole. Later, the sentence was modified to life with parole.
The children on the bus, who ranged from age 5 to 14, escaped physically unscathed; however, survivor Larry Park said recently that he is still afraid of the dark and that he doesn’t “do” crowds.
Park — who was just six years old during the ordeal — told KMPH Fox 26 he’s forgiven the kidnappers:
“I look forward to the day to walk up to Richard and give him a hug and say, ‘Peace, brother.’”