Chowchilla Kidnapping

Written by: Meagan Blomgren

What is it?

On July 15, 1976, in Chowchilla, California, 3 men kidnapped 26 school children and their bus driver. The kidnapping took place at about 4:00 p.m. on an empty highway on the school bus's route. The children were coming home from a field trip to a local swimming pool, and were on their way home before the 3 men had abducted them.

At the time of the kidnapping, the kidnappers were stationed at the side of the road, waiting for the bus to come their way. The bus driver, Ed Ray, had thought that the men had car trouble and pulled over to help the men. Unfortunately, everything went downhill from there. The three men, Richard Schoenfeld, James Schoenfeld, and Frederick Woods had turned out to be 3 criminals in need of cash. The kidnappers's idea was to kidnap the children and collect ransom money to pay off a debt they had owed for real-estate. They had owed over 30,000 dollars, but wanted to make more money while paying it off, so the men did the unspeakable. "The kidnappers, all from wealthy families, planned their sinister plot for 18 months. They were inspired by this scene in the Clint Eastwood classic, Dirty Harry" (Victims of Horrific Bus Kidnapping Reunite Four Decades Later, 2015).

After locking the victims in their truck, Richard, James, and Frederick then transferred their scared victims to a rock quarry 100 miles from where they had abducted them. The children and their driver were trapped in the moving box truck for 11 hours with no bathroom breaks and no food or water. All 26 children were scared, hungry, and heat exhausted. Most of the children had soiled themselves out of fear, and the need to go. Some of the children even had gotten sick and thrown up from motion sickness.

At about 3:30 a.m. the truck had stopped at a rock quarry in Livermore, California. When the 27 hostages got off the bus, they were ordered to give them their name, a piece of clothing, and demanded to climb down a ladder into a buried van in which they would be keeping them. After everyone was loaded into the buried van, Richard, James, and Frederick started to cover the opening of the van with dirt, to trap the hostages in the van.

When the children entered the van, they found that it was very warm and stuffy in there. Inside of the van, there were only two air tubes where they could breathe out of and a wall with supplies like water, small portions of food and dirty mattresses. After many hours of sitting in the dark stuffy van, the hostages finally thought of an escape plan. "Frank Edward 'Ed' Ray and the children stacked the mattresses, enabling some of them to reach the opening at the top of the truck, which had been covered with a metal plate and weighed down with two 100-pound industrial batteries. They wedged the lid open with a stick, Ray moved the batteries, and they removed the remainder of the debris that blocked the entrance. After 16 hours underground, they emerged and walked to the quarry's guard shack. All were in good condition" (1976 Chowchilla Kidnapping, 2015).

After the victims had escaped, they started searching for help. They escaped from the rock quarry and started to walk elsewhere. While walking on the side of a road, a man saw them and said, "Oh my God. You're those kids." The man then turned them into the police and the victims found their ways to safety. It was a long hard day for everyone, and after "About 36 hours after the bus was hijacked, the children were reunited with their panic-stricken parents - and discovered the national media had descended on their doorsteps" ('I still sleep with a night light': Survivors of 1976 school bus kidnapping reveal their enduring fears - as their captor is freed, 2015).

The abductors were captured within weeks, and sentenced to prison. In 2012, Richard Schoenfeld was released from prison.Victims of the kidnapping are still petrified to this day that Richard Schoenfeld will do something to them again. James Schoenfeld was paroled on August 7, 2015. But Frederick Schoenfeld remains in prison, his parole hearing will be some time in the fall of 2015.

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This is the spot on the highway where the children and Ed Ray were abducted at. (, 2015)
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Ed Ray had purchased the school bus in which the incident had started. All of the children still consider Ed Ray as their hero, even after he had passed. (, 2015)

Robber's Cave Experiment

The Robber's Cave Experiment was an experiment where they brought together different teams and tested to see how groups can affect individual behavior. To test this, they brought together two different groups, one being the in group and the other being the out group. The in groups were each team's team members. They were the ones that were allies to one another. The out groups were each team's enemies, they were the threat. Each team considered the opposing team the enemy.

There were three phases in this experiment. In phase one, each team was brought together by bonding. In order to bond, the scientists created activities in which each team member would have to contribute to the team by working together and communicating. The team would have to get to know each other well enough in order to commence phase two. Also, the two teams did not know of each other's existence until they were introduced in the second phase.

In phase two, the two different teams were brought to compete against each other, creating the 'out-group' and 'in-group' terms. These were activities in which the two teams had to work together to be successful and beat the other teams. Each time they won a competition, they were rewarded a simple prize. During phase two, the out-group tension got so bad they had to cut it early. The two groups started name-calling, and physically harming the opposing team members.

In the third and final phase of the experiment, the two groups had to join together in order to solve a common problem. In the real experiment, the scientists moved both of the groups to a new location and told them that they were having drinking water shortage. The two groups had to work together to repair the damage done by the 'vandals' to their drinking water supply.

After the third phase, the tension between the different had almost disappeared. They were all part of one team now. There wasn't a common enemy, or an out-group. The boys in the experiment had all helped each other. This proves that people behave differently to their own team than they do competing against one another.

Robbers Cave Experiment vs. Chowchilla Kidnapping

Just like in the Robbers Cave experiment, the Chowchilla Kidnapping had two different groups that had never met until a certain part of the experiment. The two different groups in the Chowchilla kidnapping were the hostages and the kidnappers. The hostages consisted of Ed Ray and the 26 children that were kidnapped. The kidnapper's group consisted of James Schoenfeld, Richard Schoenfeld, and Frederick Woods. The hostages group had already been bonding for some time now during the summer school and on field trips (like the one they had taken earlier that day). The kidnappers had also done some bonding during those 18+ months they had worked on their plan for the crime. Both teams had worked and communicated with each other in some way before the experiment.

Just like in phase two of the experiment, out-group tension was built by the kidnappers abduction the hostages. The hostages wanted nothing to do with the kidnappers because they were the enemies. The kidnappers didn't care about the hostages either way though. The 'reward' in this stage was either safety and freedom, or money to pay off the debt.

The third phase of the experiment related to the Chowchilla kidnapping because the 'teams' was given a common problem. The hostage's problem was trying to escape the van, and they had to work together to solve the problem. The kidnapper's problem was trying to keep them in the van, and earn the 5 million dollar ransom money. Fortunately, the hostages escaped from the kidnapper's clutches safely, and the kidnappers had lost.

Unlike the experiment though, the two teams still hated each other, because of the metal and emotional abuse that the victims had faced. One of the victims, "Larry Park, who was six at the time, added: 'After the kidnapping I started to hear a voice in my head. When I was 11, it turned violent. I fantasized about killing my kidnappers" ('I still sleep with a night light': Survivors of 1976 school bus kidnapping reveal their enduring fears - as their captor is freed, 2015). Larry wasn't the only one affected though, "Rebecca Dailey said she will never be able to forget that horrible day on the bus. She said, “They took our childhood. Not every child gets buried alive” (Victims of Horrific Bus Kidnapping Reunite Four Decades Later, 2015). The kidnappers had also hated the hostages, because they had ruined everything they had hoped to do in their plan, and now they were stuck in prison for most of their life.

The victims will always remember the hero who helped them escape, Ed Ray is a hero to all 26 children and their families. Women were interviewed decades later, after their hero had passed away, "In one final act of defiance, the women sign their names on the bus and leave messages for bus driver Ed Ray who died in 2010. 'You will forever be my hero,' says one. 'God bless Ed Ray,' said another" (Victims of Horrific Bus Kidnapping Reunite Four Decades Later, 2015).



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