Max’s ‘Chowchilla’ is a documentary that delves deep into the details and the aftermath of the 1976 kidnapping that took place in Chowchilla, California. Apart from the 26 students who found themselves trapped in an underground prison, Frank Edward “Ed” Ray was also one of the victims, but he did play a massive role in ensuring that the young kids around him were able to escape and reach back to civilization. Given his heroic actions, it is hardly a wonder that the world has become curious about what happened to the courageous bus driver.
Who is Ed Ray?
Born on February 26, 1921, Ed Ray grew up in Le Grand, California, alongside seven siblings. The son of Frank and Marie Ray moved to Chowchilla when he was a teenager and passed from the city’s high school in 1940. He then started to work on a farm by growing corn and cows until deciding to take up the role of a school bus driver. In the summer of 1976, Ed still had the happy job of being the bus driver for the local summer school. Each afternoon, he would take children to their home, and he had even signed a petition started by student Jeff Brown that demanded that the summer school remain open longer than intended. However, on July 15, 1976, the happy summer took a turn for the worse for Ed and 26 of his young passengers whom he was meant to drop off at home.
Three armed men, later revealed to be Richard Schoenfeld, James Schoenfeld, and Fred Woods, had blocked the school bus using a white van. The kidnappers had their faces covered with pantyhose and boarded the bus while holding guns in their hands. They threatened Ed at gunpoint to go to the back of the bus before taking control of the vehicle and driving it to a new location. The bus was finally stopped, and Ed, along with the children, was asked to move into one of the two vans that the kidnappers owned.
Once the 27 kidnapped individuals were in the vans, they were driven around for hours with their new accommodations being completely cut from the outside world due to the wood covering the walls. After the kidnappers reached a tented location, they made Ed come out of the van before anyone else and told him to go down a hole that led to an underground space. This place, which was later revealed to be a modified van trailer, would become the underground prison where Ed and the 26 students were confined for hours.
Initially, Ed did try to lift up the manhole cover that was used to cover the hole but found himself unable to do so. He gave up, fearing that the kidnappers might do something worse should they discover that they were trying to escape. When Mike Marshal tried to do the same later, Ed was initially hesitant but then joined him in trying to lift up the cover. Together, the two were able to remove the battery on top of the cover.
However, once the cover was removed from the top of the hole, Ed and Mike saw a wooden box that was around three feet high surrounding the top area. On top of the covering was dirt that made the box hard to break or lift. At this point, Ed decided to go back down, but Mike continued his efforts. When the 14-year-old student was able to make a crack in the roof of the box, allowing sunlight to come through, Ed rejoined him to help in the process. Once everyone was out, he took a leading role in making sure that he and the kids found help without tipping off their abductors.
What Happened to Ed Ray?
For his heroic actions, Ed Ray became a hero in Chowchilla and was praised by people across the world. Several news channels interviewed the bus driver, who himself had graduated from Chowchilla High School and was someone that the parents within the city could not help but be thankful for. A former farmer, he became a bus driver in the 1950s and retired from the job in 1988. A huge proponent of not having his kidnappers be released on parole, he was quite vocal about the same when the discussions surrounding the same started decades after the incident.
However, on May 17, 2012, Ed passed away while in a nursing home. Prior to his death, many of the 26 students he helped save visited him in his final days in order to honor their hero. His death notably came before Richard Schoenfeld, the first of the three kidnappers to be paroled, was released (on June 16, 2012). At the time of his passing, Ed was married to his wife Odessa and had two sons, Glen and Danny Ray. He also had two grandchildren, including Susan Ray Zuniga, and three great-grandchildren.
Read More: Where is Mike Marshall Now?