While they were trained, the 26 students began to sing. If you are happy and you know, it has resonated around the van, as well as their applause.

But after nearly 100 miles and over 11 hours of driving, the lyrics are changed: "If you're sad and you know it …"

The children were not happy. They were terrified after becoming hostages in what would be known as America's most notorious mass kidnapping – and singing to chase away fear.

They had to be buried alive and some that risked the death during this terrible ordeal.

For decades, they have all tried to put their experience behind them. Yet this week, the group was forced to relive these traumatic events of July 15, 1976, when its criminal brain had applied for parole.

That day, students – ages 5 to 14 – enjoyed a pool trip as part of their summer school at the Dairyland Elementary School in Chowchilla, Central California.



Larry Park shortly after the kidnapping

At 4 pm, the bus driver, Ed Ray, was forced to stop on a deserted, dusty road outside the farming town by three gunmen.

The kidnappers, disguised with tights on their heads, ordered Ray, then at age 52, accompanied by his passengers – seven boys and 19 girls – to board a white van before driving for hours northwest to a Isolated stone quarry west of Livermore.

During the trip, some of the terrified youths got dirty and vomited motion sickness.

So, to help them, older children started singing, singing songs such as Love will keep us together and if you're happy and you know it.

It was an attempt to cheer them up, but nothing could shake their growing fear …



Workers unearth kidnapping van buried in Livermore quarry. The weight of dirt crushed the top

Larry Park, now 49, one of the victims, told The Daily Mirror, "At first we thought the kids might have been joking about some of the jokes, but she did. is quickly turned into a horror.

"One of the men had a double barrel sawed shotgun that he showed us. I remember this gun being directed at me as if it were going to eat my soul.

"It was when I realized it was very serious and very real. I have an almost photographic memory, so there is nothing about this kidnapping that I can not remember. "

The victim, Jennifer Brown Hyde, a nine-year-old at the time, said she "felt like an animal going to the slaughterhouse.

Arrived at the quarry around 3 am, the hostages were led head in the trailer of a moving truck, which had been buried more than thirty meters above the ground.



Larry Park still remembers everything since that day

Then, in the dark, the kidnappers gave each of their hostages their name and a garment they intended to wear with their ransom demands.

The men had been planning their crime for over 18 months, inspired by Clint Eastwood's 1971 film Dirty Harry, in which a killer named Scorpio kidnapped a busload of schoolchildren for ransom.

They had targeted the bus because they thought the children came from a wealthy region and, although they belonged to wealthy families, they had to ask for a ransom of 4 million pounds sterling. The young hostages were forced to descend a ladder in the trailer. Inside, they found several dirty mattresses and containers filled with water.

Meanwhile, above them, they heard their captors throw dirt on the trailer, as well as two tractor batteries to keep the hatch closed. Ray and the children were buried alive.

The men had equipped the trailer with battery-powered fans that sucked in fresh air, but the stifling heat was
always intense.



Dirty Harry: Clint Eastwood in the role of Harry Callahan, Andy Robinson in the killer July 2000

The children began to whine at temperatures similar to those of the oven. The driver Ed Ray tried to comfort them, but he was crying too, convinced that the roof was going to collapse.

Ray, who died in 2012 at the age of 91, said later: "I remember children screaming and crying. The flanks of the pickup truck were inclined. I knew I was going to die. I knew it."

In the end, 14-year-old Michael Marshall announced that he would not die without a fight.

So Ray and the other older kids started stacking the mattresses on top of each other.

They then climbed onto the top and used wooden slats to try to push a steel plate onto the roof of the van.

Working furiously in the oppressive heat, the boys poured the little water they had left over their heads to fight heat exhaustion and continued to push until the hatch was open, before digging the earth to escape.



Suspects accused of abducting 26 Chowchilla children and their school bus driver are shown in the courtroom. From left to right: James Schoenfeld, Fred Woods and Richard Schoenfeld.

Six-year-old Larry and her eight-year-old sister Andrea said, "When we were buried
was terror, despair. I remember wondering what death would look like. Soon, the sides
the van was blazing under the weight of the earth, as if they were giving way.

"I thought we were going to be crushed to death. I remember the darkness in the interior. There were some flashlights, but when they were out, it was dark. I could taste the darkness so thick. It was horrible.

"Andrea prayed. We had grown up in the church and she prayed without stopping. I helped the other kids dig us up. Michael was leading the excavations. He was my hero at the time and he is now. I see him as Batman, crossing the land. The dirt got engulfed in the pickup truck, then there was a sun burst and I felt the air entering the van and the dust exploded.

"It looked like a billion shooting stars heading towards the sun. At that time, I knew everything would be fine. I watched Andrea and she watched me with tears of relief in my eyes.

After 16 hours of burial alive, Ray and the children survived. Incredibly, they literally caught the kidnappers taking a nap and, while the men were sleeping, the children quietly escaped to the quarry guardhouse near Shadow Cliffs East Bay National Park, where the authorities been called.

At one point, the gang woke up and escaped before the police arrived at the scene. They discovered that the trailer was registered with the son of the owner of the quarry, Frederick Woods. They also found a ransom note. The escape had taken place before the kidnappers could call him. The Police Department's phone lines were so overloaded with media calls and family members looking for their children that the gang could not get through.



Andrea Park, age 8, and her brother Larry, 6, were among the 26 schoolchildren in the Chowchilla area kidnapped with their bus driver.

Traumatized by the events, Ed Ray could not remember any details that could help the authorities capture the kidnappers. So he suffered hypnosis and was able to remember the license plate of one of the kidnappers' vans that had driven them to the quarry.

About two weeks later, Woods was arrested after fleeing to Vancouver, British Columbia. His accomplices, brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld, went after a few days in secret. All three were sentenced to life imprisonment after pleading guilty to 27 counts of kidnapping.

However, almost all children have been haunted in one way or another by the test ever since.

Larry said, "Andrea told our father Rodney what had happened and she feared that she only prayed. Our father said: God has entrusted each of us with a task, which consisted in praying while I was digging. Everything was so good. "

Heartbroken, Larry admits that the kidnapping has severely affected his relationship with his sister.

He says, "She has not hugged me since 1976. The effect on my family and myself has been immense. Every night, as a child, I had nightmares about fighting zombies. Gory, bloody and terrifying. If the room was dark, I would see the faces of the zombies above my bed. So I always slept with the light on.



Becky Reynolds, 9, presented here with her mother, was one of 26 kidnapped

And, while he was growing up, Larry turned to drugs to numb memories of what had happened.

He says, "I have been an addict for over 20 years because of what happened. We all found ways to hide the pain – and me, the drugs.

"At 21, I was taking methamphetamines, cocaine, crack, heroin, PCP and marijuana.

"I was not just doing drugs, I was selling drugs to support my habit. I have therefore spent my whole life in and out of prisons and psychiatric institutions. A decade ago, Larry finally decided to turn things around.

"I woke up one morning and realized that all the pain, hate and bitterness I was holding did not punish the kidnappers any more than they had been punished. Instead, he kills me. "

Larry has been clean for nine years and has written a book about his traumatic experience.

Incredibly, he also met the kidnappers face to face – including Richard Schoenfeld after his parole in 2012 and his brother James released in 2015 – claiming that it finally allowed him to be at peace.

Larry, a Christian counseling graduate, says, "This story is for me a story of redemption and forgiveness. I'm not one to hold on over the years and stay bitter.

"I visited each of the kidnappers. I forgave each of them and I asked them forgiveness for the years that I spent hating them.

"I realized that I had to change something in my life and I turned to Christianity.

"I thought if it did not work, I would try something else, but luckily it worked. There was a lot of pain and a lot of tears.

"If I wanted to be released from the prison of my life, I had to help these men to be released from the prison of their lives."



Bus driver Frank Edward Ray Jr. presented with a happy passenger to Santa Rita after rescuing a kidnapping

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Main reports of Mirror Online

However, this approach has aggravated the fracture with Andrea. Larry said, "She treated the issue completely differently for me. She refuses to forgive. She has not spoken to me for four years because of her struggle against what happened.

"She just can not see where I'm from."

This week, at 43 years of Chowchilla kidnappings, Woods made another attempt for freedom.

However, on Tuesday, the 67-year-old man was denied parole for the 17th time. And he was informed that he would remain behind bars for at least five years because of his deplorable behavior.

The move was well received by most victims. But Larry thinks his unique kidnapper should have a second chance.

He says, "I have mixed feelings about Fred and his parole hearing.

"I would love to argue a lot for his parole. But I'm not ready to do that while he's ready to get trouble in jail.

"He ran a business outside the prison selling Christmas trees, among other things.

"If he can stay for a long time without problems, I would go without hesitation and plead for his parole."

"I've pleaded for the parole of the other guys and I'm glad they're free."

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