HomeTop StoriesRemembering the Chowchilla kidnapping: A never-before-seen interview with a survivor

Remembering the Chowchilla kidnapping: A never-before-seen interview with a survivor

In the summertime of 1976 three younger males from rich households kidnapped a college bus full of kids within the small city of Chowchilla, California. Twenty-six kids ages 5 via 14 and their bus driver have been on their method dwelling from summer time faculty once they have been taken hostage at gunpoint. It’s believed to be the most important kidnapping ever in the USA.

Jodi Heffington was one of many children on the bus. She was simply 10 on the time. In a never-before-seen interview, Heffington spoke intimately about her recollections from the horrific expertise. 

Chowchilla bus kidnapping survivors
Jodi Heffington, 10, left, with different survivors of the 1976 Chowchilla bus kidnapping. 

Alameda County DA’s Workplace

“And this man got here up with a stocking over his head with a gun and stated ‘open the door’ … I by no means been round weapons. You solely see unhealthy guys within the motion pictures with stockings on, so I knew it wasn’t good … He held a shotgun to my abdomen … I assumed he was going to shoot me,” Heffington informed “48 Hours” on this week’s episode, “Remembering the Chowchilla Kidnapping,” airing Saturday, March 18 at 10/9c* on CBS and streaming on Paramount +.

The abductors then drove the frightened kids and their bus driver Ed Ray in two locked and darkened vans for greater than 100 miles earlier than taking them out of the vans one after the other.

Heffington recalled the second. “They’d take the following child out. And they’d shut the doorways. However once they opened the doorways, you do not see them. I assumed they have been principally killing us separately,” she stated.

The abductors buried them alive in an underground truck trailer in a rock quarry. Remarkably, after enduring horrific circumstances in what felt like an underground jail, the kids and their bus driver escaped by digging their method out. They’d been underground for practically 16 hours.

However as an alternative of taking the survivors to a hospital or lodge, police determined to place all of them again on a bus and transported them to the closest place that would maintain them – the Santa Rita Rehabilitation Heart — a neighborhood jail. They have been questioned for 4 hours after which lastly taken dwelling. Heffington painfully recalled being reunited along with her household, “Nothing was ever the identical. Nothing was ever the identical after that …”

Though a lot of the kids did not have any bodily accidents from the kidnapping, all of them had been via an unimaginable emotional ordeal. At the moment, sending them to the “Happiest Place on Earth” – Disneyland — was a method many felt may assist the kids overlook the trauma they endured. Larry Park, who was simply 6 years previous when he was kidnapped informed “48 Hours,” “Everybody thought that was nice as a result of the great recollections of Disneyland would overshadow the unhealthy recollections of the kidnapping.”

Chowchilla children at Disneyland
5 weeks after being buried alive, the gutsy kids of Chowchilla and their bus driver Ed Ray have been hailed as heroes. There was even a visit to Disneyland.

Jennifer Brown Hyde

Nevertheless it wasn’t that easy. Most of the kids struggled to maneuver ahead and suffered from lifelong psychological wounds. Sadly, again in 1976, much less was recognized about how one can deal with childhood trauma. In lots of circumstances, mother and father did not know a lot about or encourage remedy.

Heffington informed “48 Hours” that she struggled her complete life to seek out peace of thoughts. “How that day affected me has affected me daily indirectly or one other,” she stated. “I believe it made me not a superb daughter, not a superb sister, not a superb aunt, and particularly not a superb mom … I attempt to be these issues. Nevertheless it looks as if, it simply took one thing from me that I am unable to ever get again. And I am unable to tear down … regardless of how arduous I attempt to it doesn’t matter what I do.”

The abductors, Fred Woods and brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld, have been ultimately sentenced to life with the potential of parole. That meant, they’d get a parole listening to each one or two years. Jill Klinge was an assistant district lawyer for Alameda County. She informed “48 Hours” the parole hearings have been extraordinarily painful for the survivors. She stated, “Each time one of many kidnappers got here up for parole, it triggered their fears and traumas.”

Jodi Heffington at parole hearing
Jodi Heffington, proper, at a 2018 parole listening to for Fred Woods, went to nearly all the parole hearings for the three convicted kidnappers. 

George Osterkamp

For all three kidnappers, there have been a complete of greater than 60 parole hearings thus far. Jodi Heffington went to just about all of them and even testified at some. “It is excruciating, and the aftermath isn’t good,” she informed “48 Hours.” However she stated she went as a result of she needed to ensure the abductors stayed behind bars.

Heffington and the opposite survivors watched helplessly as Richard Schoenfeld was granted parole in 2012 adopted by James Schoenfeld in 2015.

Heffington handed away in January 2021. She was 55 y

ears previous. Fourteen months later, the final of the three kidnappers, Fred Woods, went earlier than the parole board for the 18th time. He was granted parole.  

Heffington left behind a son, Matthew Medrano, who needs his mom’s voice to be heard. He wrote a letter to “48 Hours, “I ask for all of the little ladies who’ve been compelled into feeling scared, stifled or unrepresented to please let Jodi’s phrases and her reality to be informed.” 

PROGRAM NOTE*: As a result of NCAA Males’s Basketball Event on CBS, “48 Hours” could also be delayed within the east and central time zones.

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