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Running Scared

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

Mountain States Children's Home, which was formed in 1960 by members of the West Cedar Church of Christ in Denver and then taken over by the Longmont church in 1974, is open to kids of all ages. But Randy Schow, the home's executive director, says the home serves teens because "that just seems to be where the need is."

When county social-services agencies send kids to them, Mountain States collects a government subsidy. Because most of the kids are referred privately, however, the home has a sliding-scale fee based on what parents can afford. Private donations make up the difference. When the home is full or receives referrals for kids whose problems are too severe for it to handle, staff members help find another placement.

The teens who reside here receive individual, group and family counseling. Most stay for two years, and half to two-thirds of the kids return to their parents or grandparents. For those who can't reunite with their families, Mountain States cares for them until they're old enough to live on their own. The organization's $835,000 annual budget provides salaries for the trained therapists, teachers and house parents on staff, as well as partial tuition for kids who don't have the means to pay for college.

Roy's role is not to counsel the kids, but to help them care for the animals. Nonetheless, he has become a confidant and "adoptive grandfather" to many. "I've established a close bond with a lot of the kids. I tell them they can tell me anything, but that I have to report any abuse or plans of suicide. Other than that, whatever they tell me stays right down there at the barn," he says. "A lot of the kids hug me and say, 'Grandpa, I love you.'"

Tyressa, a seventeen-year-old from Denver, had never even seen a pig until she came to Mountain States last May. Now she takes pride in caring for her swine. Working on a farm, she explains, "teaches me responsibility, and I want to please Roy, so I try really hard." Tyressa is adopted and never knew her biological grandparents, nor is she close to her adoptive ones, so Roy "is like a white grandpa to me," she says, laughing. "He encourages me to keep going and to be strong. What I've learned from him is that everyone has it in them."

And Roy has learned a few things about himself since taking the job: Despite the fact that he comes from a different world and a different time than the kids on this farm, their emotional troubles aren't so far removed from those he suffered as a teen. "My daddy was my idol, and he died when I was fifteen," Roy says. "Looking back, I see that I had a lot of anger in me."

Roy's rebellion over his father's death didn't take the same form as that of many of the home's teens -- he simply disobeyed his mama by chewing tobacco and growing sideburns -- but it was rebellion nonetheless. "If I hadn't had some men take me out behind the barn and bust my butt, I might have ended up where these kids are."

The girls were an awakening for his daughter, Shawna, as well. She could relate to them, see herself in them.

Nikki says her sister's only mistake in life was that she often gave too much. She threw herself into relationships with several guys who were bad news, including one who was abusive. "That was Shawna; she didn't care if she got nothing in return," Nikki says. "She had her rocky times, and she was going back and forth between churches, but she was getting back on track, living the life she knew she needed to."

The change in Shawna became evident when Nikki and her husband, Mike, had a baby. Shawna was bothered by the fact that their infant daughter, Kelsey, would cry and fuss whenever she tried to hold her. When Shawna mentioned that to Mike, he told her it was because she wasn't around much, so Kelsey couldn't bond with her. "Two days later, she called me up and we went apartment-hunting in Loveland," Nikki says.

After Shawna moved to 805 North Garfield Avenue in September, she rejoined the Longmont Church of Christ. She became more active with the kids on the farm, too, and the bond with her nieces grew stronger. "Within a week of Shawna moving to Loveland, Kelsey and my other two girls became close. She had supper here several times and babysat a lot, and the girls would go right to her," says Nikki, who considered Shawna her best friend.

The sisters were also best friends with their mother, often going to get their hair and nails done together. Roy, on the other hand, was strict, and the Rush girls frequently butted heads with him. "He was hard on all four of us; he treated us more like boys than girls," Nikki says. "But we all grew to respect him. There's that saying, 'The older you get, the smarter your daddy becomes.' Well, that's exactly what Shawna learned at the very end of her life."

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