One of the survivors of the Chowchilla, California, bus hijacking – who was only 6 years old when he, other children and his bus driver were buried alive in 1976 – says he is at “peace” with the three men at the center of the ransom scheme, and has even shared a meal with some of them. 

Larry Park was one of the 26 children who were on a school bus in Chowchilla, California, with their driver on July 15, 1976, when Frederick Woods and brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld hijacked the vehicle and asked for a $5 million ransom. The kids ranged in age from 5 to 14.

Woods, now 70, and the Shoenfelds buried bus driver Ed Ray and Dairyland Elementary School students alive just east of San Francisco – in a moving van that offered little light and ventilation or water, food and bathroom supplies. Everyone survived, despite the staggering heat. 

Just this week, Woods, the final of the three hijackers and the alleged ringleader, was granted parole. But Park, now 52, has overcome the trauma and struggles that started with the Chowchilla events and instead has chosen to live a life of “peace.” 

CHOWCHILLA SCHOOL BUS HIJACKER FREDERICK WOODS TO BE PAROLED AFTER 17 PRIOR FAILED ATTEMPTS AT FREEDOM

Left: This Oct. 29, 2021, photo provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows Frederick Woods; Right: Chowchilla school bus hijacking victim Larry Park at age 6

Left: This Oct. 29, 2021, photo provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows Frederick Woods; Right: Chowchilla school bus hijacking victim Larry Park at age 6
(Associated Press; Photo courtesy Larry Park)

I am no longer a victim of the kidnapping. And more than a survivor – I actually have victory over that crime,” said Park, in a phone interview with Fox News Digital on Friday. 

CHOWCHILLA SCHOOL BUS ABDUCTION VICTIMS SPEAK OUT AFTER KIDNAPPER IS RECOMMENDED PAROLE

Park, who now lives in Fresno, California, said he spent decades blaming the trio for the hardships he spent years facing. He and his family moved from Chowchilla to the San Francisco Bay area shortly after the hijacking. There, he said he was sexually assaulted by a neighbor when he was 7. 

Chowchilla school bus hijacking victim Larry Park as an adult

Chowchilla school bus hijacking victim Larry Park as an adult
(Photo courtesy Larry Park)

Later, he grappled with his mental health and a drug addiction that he said was spurred by the trauma he faced when he was younger. Admittedly, he blamed Woods and the Schoenfelds “for every bad thing that had ever happened in my life.”

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“I am now 12 years sober,” he told Fox News Digital. “I put my drugs down, and I started on a journey toward forgiveness for the kidnappers. And it was not an easy journey.” 

In this July 20, 1976 file photo, officials remove a truck buried at a rock quarry in Livermore, Calif., in which 26 Chowchilla school children and their bus driver, Ed Ray were held captive.

In this July 20, 1976 file photo, officials remove a truck buried at a rock quarry in Livermore, Calif., in which 26 Chowchilla school children and their bus driver, Ed Ray were held captive.
(AP Photo/James Palmer, file)

He added: “Every single day of my life, in every bad circumstance, I blamed the kidnappers.”

Park recalled a time when he was “so angry and so filled with hatred and bitterness and resentment.” He credits his Christianity, Jesus Christ and “believing in a power that is greater than yourself” for the successful path to forgiveness.

‘NIGHTMARE IN CHOWCHILLA’: SURVIVORS OF THE 1976 SCHOOL BUS KIDNAPPING REUNITE AFTER 45 YEARS

Fred Woods, James Schoenfeld, Richard Schoenfeld pictured in custody

Fred Woods, James Schoenfeld, Richard Schoenfeld pictured in custody
(ALAMEDA COUNTY D.A.’S OFFICE)

“Fred and James and Richard, I think about them every day. I was six years old when the kidnapping happened, and it has been seared and burned into my memory. There’s just not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the kidnapping.” 

Park, who authored a book called, “The Chowchilla Kidnapping: Why Me?,” has since taken the time to meet with each of the three hijackers in person. 

Many of survivors of the Chowchilla kidnapping gather at the Ed Ray Day celebration on August 22, 1976. Ray, the school bus driver, is pictured back row center.

Many of survivors of the Chowchilla kidnapping gather at the Ed Ray Day celebration on August 22, 1976. Ray, the school bus driver, is pictured back row center.
(Handout courtesy of Jennifer Brown Hyde)

I have offered them forgiveness, and I have asked them for their forgiveness because no one deserves to be hated for 40 years.” 

In February, he met with the Schoenfeld brothers at the Black Bear Diner in Fresno.

‘NIGHTMARE IN CHOWCHILLA’: NOTORIOUS 1976 SCHOOL BUS KIDNAPPING REVISITED

Chowchilla kidnapping ringleader Fred Woods 

Chowchilla kidnapping ringleader Fred Woods 
(ALAMEDA COUNTY D.A.’S OFFICE)

I have peace today. Fred Woods is getting out of prison. Praise God. Forty-six years is long enough,” he said. “I say it in the opening pages of my book. When I give my acknowledgments, I give thanks of those three men, because they have shown me that a leopard can change its spots, that we can be something different and better.”

‘YOU DON’T FORGET’

Families of the 26 children who were abducted from their school bus along with the bus driver await word of their fate outside police headquarters in Chowchilla, July 16, 1976.

Families of the 26 children who were abducted from their school bus along with the bus driver await word of their fate outside police headquarters in Chowchilla, July 16, 1976.
(AP Photo/Jim Palmer)

But for others, the news of Woods’ parole was not welcome. 

Lynda Carrejo Labendeira was a 10-year-old summer student at Dairyland Elementary School at the time of the hijacking. She told Fox News Digital she was “greatly disappointed with the system as far as having been told [he would serve] a life sentence without possibility of parole.”  

Officials begin to dig out the truck trailer in the Livermore, Calif. rock quarry, in which 26 Chowchilla schoolchildren and their bus driver, Ed Ray were held captive. 

Officials begin to dig out the truck trailer in the Livermore, Calif. rock quarry, in which 26 Chowchilla schoolchildren and their bus driver, Ed Ray were held captive. 
(ALAMEDA COUNTY D.A.’S OFFICE)

“That was what we’d been promised from the get-go. And then later the laws changed, and then they allowed for possible parole,” she said Friday, when reached by phone. 

Asked what she remembered most about the events of July 15, 1976, Labendeira responded: “I remember it all.” 

CALIFORNIA MAN WHO KIDNAPPED 26 CHILDREN, BURIED THEM ALIVE IS RECOMMENDED FOR PAROLE

California officials allow photographers to take pictures of the inside of this van in Livermore, Calif., on July 24, 1976.  The van was used as a prison for the 26 Chowchilla school children and their bus driver. (AP Photo/Jim Palmer)

California officials allow photographers to take pictures of the inside of this van in Livermore, Calif., on July 24, 1976.  The van was used as a prison for the 26 Chowchilla school children and their bus driver. (AP Photo/Jim Palmer)
(AP Photo/Jim Palmer)

She recalled reuniting with the other children involved after Richard Schoenfeld was granted parole in 2012, and how they each “had the same story, just from a different seat or a different part of the van that held us captive.”

“We all remembered it. Every single one of us,” said the central San Joaquin Valley

This is a Jan. 12, 2012 photo released by the California Department of Corrections showing James Schoenfeld.

This is a Jan. 12, 2012 photo released by the California Department of Corrections showing James Schoenfeld.
(California Department of Corrections via AP)

“To this day, I’m sure we all remember it pretty detailed. From things caving in, to children screaming and crying. Holding our urine … and people that got sick from that – sick from the stench, sick from the air conditioning going out in over a hundred degree weather,” she went on. “You don’t forget. You can’t forget such an ordeal. Such a horrible, horrible, horrible, traumatic experience.”

This is a June 12, 2012 photo released by the California Department of Corrections showing Richard Schoenfeld. 

This is a June 12, 2012 photo released by the California Department of Corrections showing Richard Schoenfeld. 
(California Department of Corrections via AP)

She said she has not been in contact with Woods. She said she does not have a message for Woods, but has one for “the people.”

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“For the people, it is: How long is enough of a time for a criminal to serve for kidnapping your child or your grandchildren?” she asked. “How long would be long enough for your child?”



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