It was one of the largest kidnappings in U.S. history.
On July 15, 1976, a school bus carrying 26 schoolchildren ages 5 to 14 and their driver vanished without a trace in the tiny farming community of Chowchilla, California. As a frantic search for them began, the young, terrified hostages and their 55-year-old bus driver found themselves trapped in a scene that seemed like something straight out of a horror movie.
Their unlikely captors, three directionless young men from affluent families, planned the kidnapping for more than 18 months in the hopes of getting “easy money.”
In “Nightmare in Chowchilla,” we untangle a controversy that has dogged this case for decades: Who was the real hero in the Chowchilla kidnapping? The bus driver who received all the acclaim in the days following their escape, or a 14-year-old boy who hatched a plan that ultimately saved the lives of 27 people.
Senior correspondent Claudia Cowan travels throughout California to get firsthand accounts from the people who lived through this horrendous crime, including several of the survivors and their parents, the sheriff who feverishly looked for the abductors, a TV news producer who covered the story and a prosecutor who has worked on the case. And in our podcast exclusives, we reunite two survivors who haven’t seen each other since that fateful day as well as reveal a message from one of the captors.