Geneva teacher charged in tot's death

Relates to:
Date: 1992-11-05

She faces murder and manslaughter counts alleging that she caused fatal injuries to her adopted daughter

The Post-Standard

GENEVA — A Geneva elementary school teacher was accused Wednesday of killing her 13-month-old adopted daughter. Lisa Hawkins-Rusch, a 28-year-old fifthgrade teacher in the Geneva City School District, was arraigned in Ontario County Court on two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree manslaughter and one count of second-degree manslaughter. All the charges stem from the Sept. 26 death of Meghan Hawkins-Rusch, Ontario County District Attorney R. Michael Tantillo said.

The child was pronounced dead at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, and the Monroe County Medical Examiner's Office subsequently determined she died of head injuries, Geneva police said.

Indictments unsealed Wednesday allege Hawkins-Rusch recklessly caused her adopted daughter's death by striking her head on or with a hard object, or violently shaking her, or both, Tantillo said. Hawkins-Rusch told hospital personnel that her daughter was injured when she fell in the family living room.

The prosecutor explained that she was charged with multiple counts and degrees of murder and manslaughter because a grand jury decided the alleged conduct "can be found to violate more than one statute" of state penal law.

Hawkins-Rusch, who was accompanied by her attorney, Douglas Rowe of Rochester, pleaded innocent to all counts Wednesday and was released on $10,000 bail.

"We will mount a vigorous defense, and I'm totally convinced this woman did not commit a crime," Rowe said. "There's an avalanche of circumstances that no one's addressed yet.

"It's a shame that she has to go through this additional suffering. She loses the baby that she loved dearly and now has to defend herself on this horrendous charge which seems to have been rushed through the system for inexplicable reasons."

Rowe declined to elaborate.

Hawkins-Rusch lives with her 33-year-old husband, Stephen Rusch, at 401 High St., Geneva. They have an unpublished phone number and could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Stephen Rusch is a teacher for the Newark School District in Wayne County.

The couple, who have no other children, adopted their daughter from an orphanage in China June 22.

Geneva School Superintendent Vincent Scahse said the adoption made the front page of the local newspaper and was a cause for celebration in the school district, "She and her husband had been trying to adopt a child for a long time," Scahse said. "When she came back from China with the baby, she was very excited.

"It was a big deal. She brought the baby into the office in late June to show everybody." The joy ended with the child's death, and was replaced by shock Wednesday when Hawkins-Rusch was charged with murder, Scalise said.

Hawkins-Rusch has been teaching in the district for five years, fulltime since the fall of 1988, Scalise said. She was removed from her classroom Wednesday after school officials learned she had been indicted.

"She's being reassigned to another job outside of her classroom," Scalise said. "She'll be working at the central office on curriculum and staff planning until this case is settled in court.

"In light of the indictments handed down this morning, we feel it's best to prevent some anxiety on the part of parents, faculty and students."

Scalise said Hawkins-Rusch was well-liked by parents and students. She was not known as a strict disciplinarian and there have never been any reports of the teacher striking or injuring any children, Scahse said. "I thought I had experienced everything," Scalise said. "But I've never experienced anything like this before." 

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