Man who buried children alive for $5 million ransom approved for parole

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A man who has been in prison for four decades after kidnapping a school bus of children and burying them alive in 1976, has been approved for parole, CNN and NBC News report.

Frederick Woods, 70, was approved for parole during a hearing on last Friday at California Men's Colony, a state prison, after previously being denied 17 times. He had the support of two survivors.

“I believe you have served enough time for the crime you committed,” said survivor Larry Park, who supported Woods' release along with Rebecca Reynolds Dailey. But Park added "I’m concerned about the addiction you may have about money,” urging Woods to consider getting treatment.

Woods along with his accomplices, brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld, kidnapped 26 children and their bus driver on July 15, 1976, near Chowchilla, a town 125 miles southeast of San Francisco.

USA TODAY reached out to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

According to CNN, the group took the 27 hostages 100 miles away to Livermore where they were placed into a moving truck and buried alive. Woods and the brothers demanded $5 million from the state Board of Education.

The children, aged 5 to 14, and bus driver were able to dig their way out after 16 hours. It was considered the largest mass kidnapping in U.S. history, the outlet reported.

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom's late father, state Judge William Newsom, reduced all three men's life sentences in 1980 so they could have a chance at parole.

Richard was released in 2012 after an appeals court order and James was paroled by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015.

The moving van that was used as a prison for the 26 kidnapped Chowchilla schoolchildren and their bus driver in Livermore, Calif., on July 15, 1976.
The moving van that was used as a prison for the 26 kidnapped Chowchilla schoolchildren and their bus driver in Livermore, Calif., on July 15, 1976.

At his parole hearing last Friday, Woods read an apology for his crime.

“I’ve had empathy for the victims which I didn’t have then,” he said. “I’ve had a character change since then.”

“I was 24 years old," he added. "Now I fully understand the terror and trauma I caused. I fully take responsibility for this heinous act.”

Because Woods committed the crime when he was young, he falls into a California law that requires parole commissioners to give greater weight to freeing inmates who were convicted in their youth, but are now elderly and have served long prison sentences.

The approval from the parole hearing will become final within 120 days, then will be sent to Newsom where he will have 30 days to review the decision, CNN reported. Because it's not a murder conviction, Newsom can not overrule it, but instead, send it to the Board of Parole hearings for review.

Jennifer Brown Hyde, a survivor opposing Woods' parole, said he had not made complete amends for the crime

“He could have done much more," she said. “Even the settlement paid to some of us survivors was not sufficient. It was enough to pay for some therapy but not enough to buy a house.”

Contributing: Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: California man granted parole after kidnapping school bus of children