Now that Richard Schoenfeld, 57, one of the three Chowchilla school bus kidnappers, will be released soon from prison due to a court decision on his parole, it is time to test the power of forgiveness.
Of the three men — Richard and his brother, James Schoenfeld, and Frederick Woods — Richard is the youngest. He apparently had the least to do with the crime, although he was certainly involved. Had any of the children or bus driver Ed Ray — 27 people in all — been killed or had any suffered serious physical harm, all three men might have been on death row.
But you probably know the story. After about a day and a half, the victims managed to escape. The perpetrators were captured not long after. On conviction, they received sentences of life in prison.
But even those who investigated the case now believe Richard Schoenfeld may have paid enough of a price by having spent most of his life in prison. James Schoenfeld and Woods may or may not be granted parole.
But Richard Schoenfeld apparently has earned it.
The San Francisco Chronicle, which covered the parole hearing last year, reported that Richard Schoenfeld had several unexpected backers for being granted freedom. “Also speaking out for parole was retired Madera County sheriff’s Detective Dale Fore, who led the kidnapping investigation,” the Chronicle reported at the time. “Lead prosecutor David Minier, now a retired Madera County judge, sent a letter in support of parole.
“These were just dumb rich kids who tried to rip a city off, and they’ve paid a hell of a price for what they did,” Fore said.
Ed Ray, the bus driver who led the children to freedom, died within the past month at 91, never having considered himself as the hero the public proclaimed him to be.
Larry Park, one of the kidnapping victims, who wrote the book “The Chowchilla Kidnapping: Why Me?” which was published last year in The Madera Tribune, has forgiven the kidnappers, although he struggled for years with stress because of the crime committed against him and his classmates. “For many years, I hated them (the kidnappers),” he said, “but I couldn’t heal until I had forgiven them. Forgiveness was more for my benefit than for theirs.”
Other victims also have forgiven the kidnappers, too. By letting go of their hatred, they are doing the right thing for themselves, and perhaps setting an example for the rest of us.