A news conference Wednesday in San Francisco touched nerves in the Valley still raw 35 years after the Chowchilla school bus kidnapping.
Judges, prosecutors and investigators who sent three men to prison for the crime rallied Wednesday in support of their push for parole.
Victims and others who lived through the ordeal reacted with horror.
"I don't think you'd be talking to me today if we hadn't dug ourselves out," said Jodi Heffington, who was 10 years old at the time of the kidnapping in July 1976. "I believe they left us there for dead."
Fred Woods and brothers Richard and Jim Schoenfeld were convicted of abducting 26 children and bus driver Ed Ray and hiding them underground in a Livermore rock quarry. The victims managed to escape after 36 hours, and no one was seriously injured.
The men repeatedly have been denied parole since they each were given life sentences in 1977. Parole officials did find Richard Schoenfeld suitable for release in 2008, then rescinded their decision.
On Wednesday, Richard Schoenfeld formally petitioned the state Supreme Court to grant him parole. Supporters also demanded the release of his two accomplices.
But Heffington said support from the judge, prosecutors and investigators to parole the kidnappers minimizes the severity of their crime.
"All of us had emotional damage that you can't take back," she said, noting that Richard Schoenfeld held a gun to her.
Supporters who spoke out in San Francisco focused on compassion.
"They were just dumb, rich kids and they paid a hell of a price for what they did," said Dale Fore, a former Madera County sheriff's detective.
Read the complete story at fresnobee.com