Running Scared

Shawna Rush worked with troubled teens. Then she was killed by one.

Roy got the coffee brewing and expected to hear his wife's and daughter's laughter spill into the quiet home at any moment. But while he sat and waited for them, Shawna was lying in what was left of her living room, conscious and alert but severely injured. Stephanie fled the scene, but Amber stayed behind.

Shawna implored a neighbor who'd come to her aid to call her father, and at 6:15, the neighbor finally got ahold of Roy, telling him that Shawna had been in an accident and was being transported to Loveland's McKee Medical Center. Operating on autopilot, Roy called Johnanna at Nikki's, and they each took off separately for the hospital. Once there, the frantic parents learned the details: The 28-year-old had been in the living room of her duplex when the truck came barreling into the front of the house, leaving a disaster zone of brick, crushed furniture and one very broken body.

Within thirty minutes of arriving at the hospital, the Rushes were joined by a couple dozen friends and relatives who all waited nervously while Shawna went into emergency surgery. At 8:30 a.m., doctors came out with bad news: Shawna didn't survive the operation. The cause of death, Sauter told the court, was abdominal blunt-force injuries.

Shawna Rush was developing a close relationship 
with her father, Roy, just before she died.
Mark Manger
Shawna Rush was developing a close relationship with her father, Roy, just before she died.
Shawna Rush was best friends with her mother, 
Mark Manger
Shawna Rush was best friends with her mother, Johnanna.

Stephanie Huff has been charged as an adult with one count of vehicular homicide, one count of vehicular eluding resulting in death, and one count of motor-vehicle theft.

Roy Rush heads toward the pigpen, his faithful black lab, Jake, in tow. The view from the 155-acre property west of U.S. Highway 287 is breathtaking.

Kids whose parents don't want them or don't know how to handle them come here, to the Mountain States Children's Home, for counseling and rehabilitation. They often come at the referral of a family friend or relative, but sometimes it's by order of a judge. The nonprofit, which is operated by the Longmont Church of Christ, is a place for kids to escape the temptations of city life, a place where peace seems to blow in with the fresh country air. But it's no vacation.

The approximately 35 teens who pass through the farm each year live in one of three cottages staffed by "house parents" who run the homes like a family. Six girls at a time can live in each of two cottages, while six boys live in another. The kids are expected to make their beds, do their laundry, attend church and go to school or study on campus while they transition back into a regular public school. Learning responsibility by caring for animals is part of the facility's mission, so the kids are encouraged to work on the farm -- riding horses, caring for the tack and feeding and weighing pigs in preparation for the National Western Stock Show as well as state and county fairs.

Exhaling warm breath like smoke in the cold December air, Roy talks about the city kids who cringe at the prospect of castrating pigs. It's a chore the boys are usually too squeamish to perform, but one that some of the girls enjoy. "They say, 'Ewwww,' at first and then a month later, it's 'Let's go cut another one,'" he says, laughing.

Roy, who has the thick hands of a man who's used them all his life, was "born and raised on the back of a horse." His home town of Elida, New Mexico, had a population of 300, "if you count all the dogs and cats," he says.

He met Johnanna in a 4-H horse club when he was fourteen and she was thirteen. They got married three years later and lived on Roy's father's cattle ranch for many years before moving to their own acreage in Clovis, a town 44 miles to the north. They raised four girls while Roy auctioned off livestock on his land and Johnanna worked at the Safeway milk plant in town. But in 1988, when Shawna was thirteen, Johnanna was transferred to Safeway's Denver milk plant. Rather than settle in the city, though, the Rushes preferred to live in the rural community of Fort Lupton. Roy took a job at Robinson Dairy, and the family joined the Longmont Church of Christ.

In 1995, a church elder who sat on the board of directors of the Mountain States Children's Home asked Roy if he'd be interested in managing the farm. The prospect of getting back to the land was thrilling, and as Roy toured the horse barn and pigpen, childhood memories came flooding back. He quickly accepted the offer. A year later, Johnanna joined him on staff, overseeing correspondence between the home and its donors.

Working on the farm came naturally to Roy. What didn't come naturally was working with kids who had the kinds of problems he'd only heard about on television. The 54-year-old never could have guessed that one day he'd be helping kids who'd been abused, kids who'd smoked, snorted, swallowed and injected every drug there is -- some he'd never even heard of.

"I lived a pretty sheltered life," Roy says. "When I was growing up, the only things you could get into were alcohol and cigarettes. I'd heard of marijuana, but I'd never seen it. And even though I've been married for 37 years, these kids probably know more about sexual things than I do. So I guess you could say that coming here was a rude awakening. If I had my druthers, I'd be raising Hereford cattle, just like my daddy. But I guess the Lord didn't intend for me to do that."

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