James Schoenfeld, one of the three men convicted of kidnapping 26 children and their school bus driver in Chowchilla in 1976, was granted parole on Wednesday despite receiving a “life” sentence during his trial. Victims of the kidnapping say that they are devastated by his release and that they are having a hard time with the parole board’s decision.
The Daily Mail reports that James Schoenfeld was sentenced to life in prison after he kidnapped 26 children and their school bus driver with the help of his brother, Richard, and a friend, Fred Woods. All the children on the bus were between the ages of 5 and 14. The three men say that the movie Dirty Harry, in which a bus full of children are held for ransom, gave them the inspiration for their crime.
The three kidnappers forced their way onto the Chowchilla school bus back in 1976. They rounded up all of the children and the bus driver at gunpoint and drove them 11 hours away. The children were then “buried alive” in an underground trailer. The kidnappers were hoping to obtain $5 million in ransom money for the safe return of the school children. However, their plan was foiled when the bus driver and some of the older boys were able to stack mattresses and exit the bus through a vent.
The Fresno Bee notes that during trial, all three kidnappers were sentenced to life in prison and the victims were told that the men would never be released after the traumatizing event. Despite the promise, Schoenfeld was granted parole on Wednesday just 39 years after he buried the 26 children alive in the trailer.
One victim says that the whole ordeal left her scarred for life. She notes that many victims wrote letters to the parole board encouraging them to deny parole for the man that stole their childhood.
“You don’t go from being buried alive and thinking you’re going to die to having a normal childhood.”
Despite her issues with anger and anxiety attacks stemming from the ordeal, the woman says she is one of the lucky ones. She claims that many of the other victims are now in prison themselves or hooked on drugs.
“I’m fortunate I’m not incarcerated or hooked on drugs, which is how some of the kids dealt with it. I’m as OK as a broken person can be.”
The victims say the granting of parole feels like “a betrayal,” as they feel that the entire issue involves money.
“They got life in prison. It feels like a betrayal because the legal team that put them there, the DA and the judge, later came out on their side and said they never should have served this long. That’s what I have a hard time with. … Money can obviously buy you freedom.”
Madera County District Attorney David Linn said he was disappointed by the granting of parole to Schoenfeld, but says she is not at all surprised by it due to prison overcrowding.
“The word has been on the street within government circles for the past couple of months that they were going to go ahead and grant it. Considering what’s been happening [overcrowding] throughout the whole California prison system, I’m not surprised.”
What do you think about the kidnapper’s parole hearing? Do you think Schoenfeld will commit a crime again considering he only served 39 years of his life sentence?
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