California man who kidnapped 26 children, buried them alive is recommended for parole

Survivors of the kidnapping say they are still fearful

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A California man who kidnapped 26 children on a school bus in 1976 was recommended for parole. 

Frederick Newhall Woods was one of three gunmen who hijacked a school bus with 26 kids and their bus driver in Chowchilla, California, in 1976. The men transferred the driver and children to vans and drove them 12 hours before they were buried alive in an underground truck trailer, CBS News reported

It is considered the biggest kidnapping in U.S. history

'NIGHTMARE IN CHOWCHILLA': SURVIVORS OF THE 1976 SCHOOL BUS KIDNAPPING REUNITE AFTER 45 YEARS

Woods had attempted to earn parole 17 times since his conviction, and was granted a recommendation by a panel of two commissioners during his 18th attempt this year. The full parole board, the board's legal division and Gov. Gavin Newsom still need to approve the recommendation. 

This is a Nov. 9, 2015, photo released by the California Department of Corrections, showing Fredrick Woods. Woods is one of three men convicted in the kidnapping of 26 children and their school bus driver in Chowchilla, Calif.  (California Department of Corrections via AP)

This is a Nov. 9, 2015, photo released by the California Department of Corrections, showing Fredrick Woods. Woods is one of three men convicted in the kidnapping of 26 children and their school bus driver in Chowchilla, Calif.  (California Department of Corrections via AP) (AP)

Woods and the two other kidnappers, James and Richard Schoenfeld, had wanted $5 million in ransom during the kidnapping. The driver and some older children, however, managed to escape by digging out of the trailer while their captors slept. 

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The children and driver did not suffer from life-threatening injuries but reported psychological harm following the incident. 

"I'm 50 years old, and I can have an anxiety attack over getting in the car with my husband," survivor Jennifer Brown Hyde told Fox News senior correspondent and "Nightmare in Chowchilla" host Claudia Cowan earlier this year. 

Woods and the two other men were arrested about two weeks later and sentenced to life without parole. An appeals court later overturned the decision and made the men eligible for parole. 

Richard Schoenfeld was paroled in 2012 and James Schoenfeld in 2015. 

Woods read an apology for the mass kidnappings Friday. 

"I've had empathy for the victims which I didn't have then," he said, according to CBS News. "I've had a character change since then."

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"I was 24 years old," he added. "Now I fully understand the terror and trauma I caused. I fully take responsibility for this heinous act."