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Frederick Woods recommended for parole over 1976 Chowchilla bus hijacking and kidnapping of 26 kids

The Chowchilla Kidnapping
"48 Hours" Live to Tell: The Chowchilla Kidnapping 42:46

Frederick Newhall Woods, one of the three men who hijacked a school bus and kidnapped 26 children in Chowchilla, California in 1976, was recommended for parole on Friday. The recommendation came during Woods' 18th attempt to earn parole for what has been called the largest kidnapping in U.S. history, after he had been rejected 17 times. 

On July 15, 1976, Woods and two other gunmen stopped a school bus with 26 children who were heading home from Dairyland Elementary School. The children and their bus driver were transferred to vans, and were driven in the dark for 12 hours before they were buried alive in an underground truck trailer. 

The kidnappers wanted $5 million in ransom — but when they tried to call to make their request, the phone lines were jammed and they couldn't get through. The children and the driver managed to escape the trailer after about 16 hours, after bus driver Ed Ray and some of the older children dug their way out. 

Chowchilla kidnapping survivors
A photo of the survivors of the Chowchilla kidnapping. Jennifer Brown Hyde

None of the victims sustained life-threatening injuries — but many detailed the psychological harm they endured in a 2019 "48 Hours" special.  

The three men were arrested approximately two weeks after the kidnapping. They were originally sentenced to life in prison without parole, but an appeals court overturned the decision and gave them the possibility of parole. 

Friday's parole hearing was held entirely on video due to COVID-19 protections, CBS News' George Osterkamp reported. The 70-year-old Woods and his attorney, Dominique Banos, told the court that he has not faced any disciplinary action since his last parole hearing in 2019. Previously, he had been disciplined for running an unauthorized gold mine and Christmas tree farm from prison. 

On Friday, Woods read an apology for what he had done. 

"I've had empathy for the victims which I didn't have then," he said, according to Osterkamp. "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."

Frederick Woods at a parole hearing on October 8, 2019. Afterwards, his appeal was denied for the 17th time. CBS News/George Osterkamp

Two survivors of the kidnapping spoke in favor of parole, while multiple others opposed it. The other two men involved in the crime — James and Richard Schoenfeld — were previously granted parole. 

A panel of two commissioners recommended the parole. Now, the full parole board, the board's legal division and California Governor Gavin Newsom will need to approve the decision.  

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