The final offender serving time for the infamous 1976 Chowchilla school bus kidnapping was given parole on Wednesday.
After 17 previous denials, parole commissioners determined that Frederick Woods, 70, was no longer a danger to the public.
On February 17, 1978, Woods was accepted from Madera County to serve seven years to life in prison for abduction and robbery for ransom for his role in the 1976 Chowchilla kidnapping, in which a school bus driver and 26 children were stolen and buried in a quarry in Livermore, California.
Parole has been proposed for the last Chowchilla kidnapper.
Fredrick Woods, 70, has been approved for release from jail by a parole board. Woods is the last surviving Chowchilla school bus kidnapper.
When they kidnapped 26 children and their bus driver near Chowchilla, roughly 125 miles southeast of San Francisco, all three were from rich San Francisco Bay Area households.
The youngsters, aged 5 to 14, and their bus driver were buried in a ventilated bunker east of San Francisco. More than a day later, the victims were able to dig their way out.
At his parole hearing on Friday, Woods read an apology for his actions.
Survivors of the 1976 school bus kidnapping reunite 45 years later in ‘Nightmare in Chowchilla.’
“I’ve felt empathy for the victims that I didn’t have before,” Woods explained. “I’ve evolved as a person since then.”
“I was 24 at the time,” he continued. “Now I fully comprehend the dread and pain I inflicted. I accept full responsibility for this horrific crime.”
In 1976, a school bus carrying students from the small farming village of Chowchilla, California, vanished without a trace. Claudia Cowan, a senior correspondent for FOX News, travels throughout California to gather firsthand testimony from victims of this heinous crime.
California law now requires parole commissioners to give more weight to releasing offenders who were young at the time of their crime, as well as those who are now old and have completed long prison sentences.
“This is a person who has proven to be extremely harmful. He’s damaged the lives of scores of young kids, and many of them are still struggling with the consequences “Sally Moreno, the District Attorney for Madera County, stated following the ruling.
Woods and the Schoenfelds had been plotting their crime for over a year. They were hoping to extract a $5 million ransom from the state Board of Education.
James Schoenfeld once told parole officers that he envied his pals’ “his-and-hers Ferraris.” During a previous parole hearing, Woods stated that he simply “became greedy.”
Woods stated during his parole hearing in 2012 that he didn’t need the money, and both those supporting and opposing his parole on Friday mentioned his relative wealth.
“I believe you have done enough time for the crime you did,” said survivor Larry Park, who, along with Rebecca Reynolds Dailey, supported Woods’ release. However, Park continued, “I’m concerned about the money addiction you may have,” advising Woods to seek therapy.
Jennifer Brown Hyde, one of those opposed to Woods’ parole, stated that he has yet to truly atone for his crime and “is still a millionaire.”
“He could have done a lot more,” she opined. “Even the compensation paid to some of us survivors was insufficient. It was enough to cover the cost of some therapy but not enough to purchase a home.”
Get your top stories delivered to your inbox every day! Subscribe to FOX 11’s Fast 5 newsletter. In addition, the FOX 11 News app provides breaking news alerts. You may get it for iOS or Android.
Matthew Medrano, Jodi Heffington Medrano’s son, sobbing multiple times as he described how his mother went from being a loving, outgoing survivor to experiencing deeper, bitter thoughts and melancholy before her untimely death.
Others testifying against Woods’ parole included survivors Lynda Carrejo, Laura Yazzi Fanning, and Carol Marshall, mother of survivor Michael Marshall, who spoke about the long-term consequences of the kidnapping. According to Marshall, it affected entire families.
Woods’ disciplinary offences in jail, according to Madera County prosecutors, demonstrated that he had not yet learned to follow the rules.
However, Woods and his attorney, Dominique Banos, noted that he had not received any disciplinary action since his last parole hearing in October 2019.