HomeNewsHeroic Chowchilla School Bus Driver, Ed Ray, Remembered

Heroic Chowchilla School Bus Driver, Ed Ray, Remembered

Funeral services were held Tuesday for Ed Ray, the school bus driver who became a hero in the 1976 Chowchilla kidnapping case that ultimately had a happy ending. Ray was 91.

Ray (backrow, left of center) poses with the students of the kidnapped school bus.

Ray saved the lives of 26 children after three masked men hijacked their bus and held them underground for a $5-million ransom.

These children became lifelong friends of Ray, who died May 17 of complications from cirrhosis of the liver. He is survived by his wife, Odessa, two sons, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Services were held at Chowchilla Cemetery in Central California.

Ray and some of the students were able to dig themselves out of the school bus grave, and the three kidnappers, brothers James and Richard Schoenfeld and friend Fred Woods, were apprehended. The young men, all in their mid-20s at the time, were convicted and sentenced to life in prison. But, in 1980 the state appeals court ruled that all three were eligible for future release because none of the victims had suffered physical injuries.

Meanwhile, the state appeals court ruled on Feb. 28 that the youngest of the three Chowchilla kidnappers, Richard Schoenfeld, is entitled to release. After denying parole to Richard 19 times, the Board of Parole Hearings found in 2008 that he posed no danger to society, based on his good behavior and acceptance of responsibility. Yet, after reconsidering and reaffirming its decision, the board recalculated Richard’s sentence last year, adding time for each of his kidnapping victims, and scheduled his release for 2021. Woods and James Schoenfeld, have not been granted parole.

Chowchilla-CA-map200John Green, former state director of pupil transportation and a California Highway Patrol officer in 1976, spoke about developing a transportation safety plan to prepare for a violent or terrorist attack and referred to the Chowchilla kidnapping, stressing the emotional and psychological impact it had on the victims. The high-profile case was related in the book “Why Have They Taken Our Children?” by Jack W. Baugh and Jefferson Morgan, and eventually adapted into a television movie.

Bay area psychiatrist Lenore Terr interviewed the young victims, aged 5 to 14, months after the crime when parents noted a rise in nightmares and other fears experienced by the children. Terr’s in-depth interviews with the victims became a key part of her book “Too Scared to Cry: Psychic Trauma in Childhood.”

Jodi Medrano, who was 10 during the school bus hijacking and subsequent kidnapping, recalled that Ray made her feel safe during the 16-hour ordeal. Medrano, who now runs a hair salon in Chowchilla, said she kept in touch with Ray all of her life, as did many of the other students. Most of them remained in the small town as adults and visited their former bus driver up until his passing.

“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 said, according to the AP report.

Ray’s family members said he collected newspaper clippings about the kidnapping and bought the school bus he drove in 1976 for $500 because he didn’t want it to be scrapped. He parked the bus in his barn and started it once in awhile, according to his son, Glen. After several years, Ray donated the infamous bus to an old equipment museum in Le Grande, where it is still available for public viewing.

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