Imagine this: You are driving a school bus on a hot summer day. The bus is carrying kids on their way home from a swimming session. The trip is calm, on schedule and routine. And suddenly, you become the star of a horror movie.
That was what happened to Ed Ray of Chowchilla on July 15, 1976, when he found himself confronted by a roadblock on a country road. Three men wearing masks and carrying guns forced the bus to stop. They ordered Ed Ray and the 26 children aboard the bus to get out. That was when Ed Ray became a hero.
He began by calming the children. Then, he ministered to them and tried to protect them from further harm as they all were put into two vans, driven around for 11 hours, then forced to climb down into the trailer of a truck that had been buried in a quarry in Livermoore. He then led the effort to escape from the van.
Working with some of the older children, he was able to stack mattresses, which the kidnappers had put into the truck for the victims to lie on. Then, climbing atop the stack he worked to push open a hatch at the top of the trailer-prison — a Herculean task for a man then 55 years old. It was even more difficult considering the kidnappers had covered the truck with dirt.
The efforts of Ray and the older children paid off. The victims freed themselves and walked to the nearest source of help.
Ed Ray was a modest hero, even as he was being honored throughout the state for his efforts to free the children. He continued to work the farm he and his wife, Odessa, owned, and he kept driving a school bus until retiring in 1988. He remained active in the Chowchilla community.
Ray probably saved the lives of those 26 children during that time of shared horror. His death Thursday at 91 marked the end of a long life lived well. We join his hundreds of admirers in saying, “Well done, good and faithful friend, and extraordinary hero.”