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Man Who Kidnapped Bus Full Of Children & Buried Them Alive Approved For Parole

Photo: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation / Alameda County D.A.'s Office
Frederick Newhall Woods

A 70-year-old California man who was convicted for the 1976 kidnapping of a bus full of children and burying them and the driver alive has been approved for parole.

Frederick Newhall Woods was found suitable for parole at a hearing Friday at California Men's Colony after being denied release 17 other times.

Frederick Newhall Woods' parole comes decades after his role in a 1976 mass kidnapping.

Woods had been sentenced for his role in the 1976 kidnapping of 26 children, ages 5 to 14, and their bus driver near Chowchilla, a small city in Northern California's Madera County.

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Woods and his accomplice, brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld, took all 27 captives to Livermore, more than 100 miles away, placed them into a moving truck, and buried them alive in a quarry owned by Woods' father. 

The kidnappers then demanded $5 million ransom while the victims were buried, in what was called the largest mass kidnapping in the United States, and was reportedly inspired by the 1971 Clint Eastwood film, 'Dirty Harry.' 

After being underground for 16 hours, the driver and the children dug themselves out and escaped while Woods and the Schoenfield brothers were asleep. The kidnappers had all come from wealthy San Francisco Bay Area families.

Woods and his accomplices pleaded guilty and were each given 27 life sentences without the possibility of parole. Though, an appeals court overturned the sentence and ruled that the kidnappers should have the chance for parole.

The other kidnappers have already been released. 

Richard Schoenfeld was paroled in 2012, and James Schoenfeld was released in 2015. Woods is the last of the three still in prison and had first become eligible for parole back in 1982.

During his hearing on Friday, Woods apologized for his actions, telling the parole panel that he "had empathy for the victims which I didn't have back then."

"I've had a character change since then," he continued. "I was 24 years old. Now I fully understand the terror and trauma I caused. I fully take responsibility for this heinous act."

According to CNN, the parole decision will become final in 120 days, and after the governor has 30 days to review the decision where he can either allow the decision to stand or refer it to the full board for review. The governor can only reverse parole decisions if the inmate was convicted of murder, which Woods wasn't.

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Two of the victims, Larry Park and Rebecca Reynolds Dailey, supported Woods' being eligible for parole.

"I believe you have served enough time for the crime you committed,” Park said during the hearing.

However, other victims Jennifer Brown Hyde, Lynda Carrejo and Laura Yazzi Fanning do not want Woods to be released.

"He could have done much more," Brown Hyde told the parole panel, adding that she does not think Woods has fully made amends for what he did and is "still a millionaire." 

"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," she continued.

Several of the victims told CNN in 2015 that they still have anxiety and nightmares from the kidnapping. Darla Neal, who was 10 at the time, told the news outlet that her "extreme anxiety" made it impossible to live a normal life.

"I'm overwhelmed to the point that I had to leave work," she said. "I tell myself I should be able to shake this off and deal with it. Yet here I am, a mess."

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Nia Tipton is a writer living in Brooklyn. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram.