SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — The story captured the attention of the nation back in 1976. Three Bay Area men were convicted and received life sentences. Now, one of the men convicted of kidnapping a bus full of children and burying them in a van more than 35 years ago is a free man. Wednesday night, 57-year-old Richard Schoenfeld was released from the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo.
Schoenfeld has spent the past 36 years in prison. His brother tells the ABC7 News I-Team Rick has served his time and that he’s not a danger to anyone.
Schoenfeld’s family told the I-Team about the scene at midnight when a state parole agent delivered him home to his 89-year-old mother on the Peninsula.
Dan Noyes: “What were his first words?”
John Schoenfeld: “I can’t believe I’m here.”
It’s been 36 years since Rick Schoenfeld, his brother Jim and accomplice Fred Woods kidnapped 26 children and their school bus driver in Chowchilla, drove them to a Livermore quarry and made them climb down into a moving van they had buried there. Sixteen hours later — before the kidnappers could call in their $5 million ransom demand — the bus driver and the kids dug their way out and found help.
“About 7 o’clock we got dug out, we handed all the kids up, I handed the kids up to the other boys and we got out,” bus driver Ed Ray said of the ordeal.
“It was a horrible crime, it affected the kids, it affected their families and the community and it was not a good thing,” John Schoenfeld said.
John Schoenfeld says his brother understands the seriousness of the crime and that he’s a changed man and no longer a threat to anyone. His first request after leaving prison was a chocolate milkshake.
Schoenfeld says he might give Rick a job at his motorcycle shop.
“It’s a huge step, I mean we’ve been without Rick for 36 years, Rick and Jim, and this is the first step to get Jim out also,” John Schoenfeld said.
Rick schoenfeld’s release comes as a shock to the victims who expected all three kidnappers to serve their full life sentences.
“It’s something I think about still, all the time,” victim Larry Park said.
Several victims the I-Team spoke with were upset at Schoenfeld’s release, but Park has been able to move on.
“I feel like it’s time for him to become a productive member of society,” Park said.
“My brothers are both very sorry to all the victims and their families but there’s nothing they can do to make it any better right now, so now they just have to go on with their lives,” John Schoenfeld said.
John Schoenfeld tells me his brothers are willing to do anything for the victims, for example write letters to apologize. He says Jim is even willing to see the victims in prison, there at the Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo.