Ed Ray Dies: ’76 California Bus Kidnapping Hero Dead

Nationally proclaimed hero Ed Ray – who led a horrified group of children to safety during the summer of 1976 after the kids had been kidnapped and held captive underground, while the captors awaited their ransom payment – died on Thursday May 17, 2012.

The unsuspecting bus driver from the farmlands of Central California never predicted he would have been involved in such a horrific event, despite the Chowchilla kidnapping that swarmed the headlines and was later turned into a TV motion picture.

Ray became a lifelong friend of the 26 students he rescued, up until his death on Thursday. His death was attributed to cirrhosis complications of the liver. One of the rescued students, Jodi Medrano, was quoted having said:

“I remember him [Ed Ray] making me feel safe.”

Medrano was only ten-years-old when the three men stole the school bus he was in and hid him and the rest of the kids in a confined storage van hidden inside of a rock quarry. He held a flashlight while the bus driver helped the older students pile mattresses and remove dirt in order to create an opening to the outside world. The children escaped after having been held captive underground for 16 hours. During the terrifying ordeal, Jodi never left Ed’s side, the now 46-year-old was quoted by Myfoxatlanta.com having said:

“I remember he actually got onto me because I swore. Mr. Ray said, ‘you knock that off.’ I thought, whenever we get home I will be in so much trouble. That’s when I knew I was going home, because he made me have that hope.”

Jodi is now running a hair salon in Chowchilla, the same place the tragic incident occurred. Jodi informs that she kept in touch with Ray frequently, as well as a large majority of the other students rescued by Ray, and had frequent visits. “Mr. Ray was a very quiet, strong, humble man. He has a very special place in my heart and I loved him very much,” Medrano stated while in tears.

Five hours after the bus jacking police located the empty bus in an out of sight drainage slough. There was no sign of blood. It wasn’t until the next day that Ray and his family and the families of the missing children receive notification indicating that the bus driver and children, age 5 to 14, were all safe.

The only adult on the bus that day was Ed Ray, who had stopped the bus on that fateful hot July summer day in order to offer his assistance to a broken down van. It was at this point that the three armed and masked men surprised Ed and the children and took them hostage. Afterwards, their captors drove around aimlessly for hours until finally arriving at a quarry 100 miles north in Livermore, California. Ray and the children were buried in the van under 3 feet of dirt while the captors demanded a $5 million ransom for their safe return. While they slept, Ray and two older children dug themselves to safety.

“He told me that he felt it was his responsibility to get the kids back home to their parents safely, that’s all he could think about,” Ray’s son, Glen Ray, stated. He also indicated that his father loved children and that they were his life.

The three masked men, Frederick N. Woods and two brothers James and Richard, part of the high class San Francisco Peninsula families, were convicted and sentenced to life in prison. None of the three brothers have been paroled.

What are your thoughts on Ed Ray’s death?