By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Shawna Rush was a small-town girl who was taught to respect other people, to mind her elders and to give selflessly.
Growing up, she and her three sisters ate supper with their parents, Roy and Johnanna Rush, every night that they didn't have basketball or volleyball practice. They went to church every Sunday, and when the four tomboys weren't playing school sports, the were showing their prized pigs in the county fair.
Despite Shawna's wholesome upbringing, though, Roy admits she was "no perfect angel." All of his daughters rebelled as teens, but it was Shawna who gave him all of his gray hairs, he says with a chuckle. As the baby of the family and the last to leave home, she pushed the limits, staying out past curfew, not calling her parents when she was supposed to, and dating more than a few bad boys. When she got older, she strayed from her family and church in favor of the bars and nightclubs of Denver. "She would do the opposite of what people wanted her to," remembers Shawna's thirty-year-old sister, Nikki Basart. "Instead of listening to country music, she listened to rap, and that drove Daddy nuts."
Things slowly began to change when Roy and Johnanna started working at the Mountain States Children's Home, a residential child-care facility north of Longmont. Shawna took an interest in the kids and found she could relate to the girls. She saw an opportunity to prevent them from making some of the same mistakes she'd made.
She eventually moved from Thornton to Loveland to be closer to her family, returned to church and started planning to become a teacher. But on November 3, 2003, Shawna's world collided with that of Stephanie Huff, a troubled teen whose life was careering out of control.
December 16, 2003, was a crisp, clear day in Fort Collins. But inside the Larimer County courtroom where Stephanie Huff's preliminary hearing was taking place, the air was warm and thick with anxiety.
Stephanie sat to the left of the defense table, wearing an orange jumpsuit; she had a black air cast on her right arm. Her long, brown hair was unkempt, her pale face dotted with pimples. The puffy circles under her eyes were evidence of sleepless nights. No emotions crossed her face as she listened to Loveland police detective Susan Sauter describe the events of November 3. Not even a flicker of a smile appeared when she glanced at her grandparents, uncle and older sister sitting in the back of the courtroom.
Two months earlier, fifteen-year-old Stephanie had run away, taking her fourteen-year-old friend, Amber, with her. The two girls had spent a week driving around Fort Lupton and Evans, sleeping in a small red car. The friends then decided to steal a truck, Sauter told the court, and Amber lifted an extra set of keys from the home of a man she knew. On November 2, Amber and Stephanie spotted the man's truck outside a Weld County nightclub, and while he was inside, they took the white 1990 Chevy. The girls drove around all night, finally stopping in Loveland, where they parked in an alley and fell asleep.
Shortly before 6 a.m., Loveland police received a call about the truck, which was blocking a man's driveway. The responding officer tapped on the glass, waking Stephanie and Amber. He asked them their names and then went back to his cruiser to run a check. Stephanie came up in his database as a runaway. When the officer returned and told the girls to exit the truck, which had been reported stolen, Stephanie rolled up the driver's-side window, started the engine and accelerated in reverse.
The officer ran to the front of the house, where his patrol car was parked, and watched as the truck raced past him. He jumped in his car, turned on his lights and requested backup. But it was a foggy northern Colorado morning and the truck was speeding and swerving, so he called off the chase within minutes. Unaware of that, Stephanie told Amber, "Put on your seat belt; I'm not going to jail," Sauter testified. Six blocks later, Stephanie lost control of the truck and crashed into the Garfield Avenue duplex that Shawna Rush had moved into just a month and a half earlier.
Shawna had been in her duplex getting ready for work at StorageTek in Louisville and had called Roy at 5:15 to say she was dropping by on her way. When the phone rang, he was still in bed. "She said, ŒWhatcha doin', Pops?'" Roy remembers. It was their little joke; she knew exactly what he was doing at that hour.
She asked to speak to her mother, but Roy told her Johnanna had spent the night in Loveland, caring for her three granddaughters while Nikki and her husband drove home from Nebraska. Nikki was scheduled to arrive home shortly, so Shawna offered to pick up her mother on the way to the house. "I said I'd go get her," Roy recalls, "but she said, 'Nope, I'll get her; you put the coffee on.' I said, 'Whatever you say, bossy britches.' She said, 'Oh hush, Daddy. I love you.' That was the last thing she said to me."