1976 Chowchilla Bus Kidnappings – Justice v. Forgiveness

The bus, found hidden in a washout.

     Thirty-five years ago, three well-to-do young men made some incredibly bad decisions, resulting in one of the most notorious kidnappings in Madera County, California and even U.S. history. Twenty-six children of varying ages, along with school bus driver Ed Ray were taken hostage by Frederick Woods, and Richard and James Schoenfeld. They were subsequently driven in two vans to a quarry in Livermore and buried in a moving van. Through the resourcefulness of the bus driver and some of the older children, every single victim was able to escape their captivity, physically uninjured. The emotional and mental injuries to the victims of this heinous crime however, remain to this very day.

     The messrs. Schoenfeld and Woods were subsequently caught, tried by a jury of their peers, and received life imprisonment sentences for their roles in the mass kidnapping. The year was 1977. Now, almost 35 years later, all three are up for parole. Several key people involved in the case, including judges, prosecutors and sheriff’s investigators have recently come out in support of granting the three gentlemen parole, citing their 35-year record of impeccable behavior during their incarceration. Several of the victims however, maintain that only continued imprisonment will serve the cause of justice for the crime. 

     This story brings us to a social conundrum of sorts, one that has plagued the justice system and society in general for ages; striking the balance between justice and forgiveness. By all accounts, all three of the perpetrators have continuously expressed remorse for their actions. They have been deprived of their liberties for over a quarter of a century. Each one has strived to be a model citizen, albeit in the microcosm of society in which they have existed. The position of those supporting their release seems to be that surely, they have paid for their crimes and should receive a modicum of forgiveness.

     On the other hand, we have the victims’ perception of justice, and the amount of justice required to compensate not only the victims, but the community that was impacted as well. Assuredly, each victim has their own opinion of the measure of justice required, some may even be swayed towards forgiveness, while others will settle for no less than life, period.


Messrs. Schoenfeld and Woods

    Each person involved in this dramatic story of crime and justice will, in some way either great or small, find themselves considering the merits of forgiveness versus appropriate recompense in the following days and weeks. This much is certain. The perception of justice and forgiveness is assuredly going to be different for those who found themselves staring up at that hatch in the top of the moving van, praying for salvation, and those outside the moving van yet still involved in the case. In closing, the question is not “how much justice?” or “how much forgiveness?”, but “how do we find the balance?”

3 comments on “1976 Chowchilla Bus Kidnappings – Justice v. Forgiveness

  1. truelibertarian says:

    I don’t mean to plug my own blog, but I go through this point in my blog about the death penalty (sorry).

    But I’ll summarize here. The crux of the matter (for me anyway) isn’t about justice or forgiveness. It’s about sadism and self-righteousness against rehabilitation. If someone has been successfully rehabilitated (and let’s stipulate that this is a hypothetical scenario where the extent of one’s rehabilitation can be definitively ascertained), I see no reason for him to remain in prison, other than to satisfy the human impulse of sadism. If after one day, a murderer experiences a true moment of clarity, what misbegotten notion of “justice” would keep him in prison? So he can pay for what he’s done? Is there really any way to pay for what he’s done? I don’t think so. There’s no way his incarceration will improve society at all if he’s been truly rehabilitated.

    This is just a quick summary, but I explain it in further detail on my blog.

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