Research And Reports
On July 15, 1976, an armed, masked man stopped a school bus carrying 26 Chowchilla, Calif., schoolchildren. Forcing the children and their bus driver into vans, the man and his confederates drove them 100 miles, then moved the captives to the back of a moving van that was buried in an old rock quarry. There they stayed for 16 hours, until several victims dug their way out and got help for the others.
Although they try very hard to convince everyone that the incident is no more than an unpleasant memory, the schoolchildren still suffer anxiety and other psychological effects, according to a study conducted by a California child psychiatrist.
In a five-year follow-up study, Lenore C. Terr of the University of California San Francisco Medical Center interviewed 25 of the children who were kidnapped. Many, she reported, have lingering psychological effects from the experience.
Some still suffer "traumatic anxiety," Dr. Terr said, and "were afraid of the feeling of being afraid."
All of the subjects suffered from fears of kidnapping, or fears of the dark, or fears of being alone. "After four or five years, no one is exempt," Dr. Terr said. In some cases, their anxiety was accompanied by attacks of panic.
One "striking, long-term finding" was that 23 of the 25 children have a sense that "there is no future." Some say that they do not expect to live very long. "I think I'm going to die young," one girl told Dr. Terr. "I'm sure of this. Someone is going to come along and shoot me."
Some children channeled their fears into play. One girl invented a game called "Bus Driver," which she played with her sister. The two children would sit on the kitchen table and "drop off" passengers.
When the psychiatrist asked the girl if the game might have something to do with the kidnapping, the child replied, "Oh no, I drive a safe bus. No one on my bus ever gets kidnapped."
"I think the children were particularly anxious to show that they were now normal, and I think it's very important to know that they weren't," Dr. Terr said. The psychiatrist presented her findings at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry. The study will be published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.