On July 15, 1976, in Chowchilla, a small rural community in the San Joaquin Valley of California, three armed masked men kidnapped twenty-six children and the driver of their school bus. They were transferred into two vans and driven around in total darkness for eleven hours. At about 3:30 A.M., they were transferred one by one into a "hole," a buried truck-trailer, where they were reunited in a poorly lit large space. Food consisted of stale breakfast cereal, potato chips, peanut butter, and water. Two wheel-wells, one for boys, one for girls, were the "bathrooms." The children remained in the "hole" for sixteen hours, until the driver and several of the older boys dug an escape hatch out of the roof. The police were called and the entire group taken to a nearby prison for questioning and sporadic sleep. The children were picked up by their families the next morning; the total period of separation was about forty-three hours. The victims received no psychiatric help for five months. Three of the children left the community. The author worked with the remaining twenty-three children and their parents for eight months. There were seventeen girls and six boys ranging in age from five to fourteen years. There were seven sibling and two cousin groups. The psychiatric findings, including the immediate and long-term effects of the kidnapping on the children, the parents, and the community, are presented in detail. Some of the findings were surprising and challenging to accepted theory. For example, every one of the twenty-three children was affected by the traumatic event. All developed a variety of persistent fears and unsuccessfully attempted to cope with them. Anxiety was manifested in play, behavioral re-enactments, and repetitive dreams. Among the many anxietydreams related to the kidnapping, five children (five to nine years old) had terrifying dreams of their own death. The age of the traumatized child did not seem to be a determinant of the severity of the post-traumatic symptoms. There was an amazing similarity of response across the entire age range. The author's findings are
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compared with findings in adult traumatic neuroses and with the reactions of children and adults to disasters described by others. Suggestions for preventive measures emerge from the study. The abstractor wishes to emphasize that this is an important clinical and theoretical contribution.
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Blank, H.R. (1982). The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child. XXXIV, 1979. Psychoanal. Q., 51:333-334