The attorneys bringing the lawsuit on behalf of the young man who claims he was sexually and mentally abused by his teacher speak out on camera for the first time.
Attorneys Teresa Toriseva and Shari McPhail say their client, Christopher Birch, was taken advantage of and manipulated starting at a young age.
They say he was particularly vulnerable because his own home life was non-existent.
They say his science teacher and track coach, Elizabeth Harbert, started the process by taking him into her home, becoming his guardian, and eventually his lover.
They say when he was 13, she purchased shoes for him, allowing him to choose them himself, an experience he’d never had.
Toriseva says it was confusing for the boy, who became sexually involved with the older woman when he was 14.
“After the first sexual encounter, he reports that he expressed to her that he felt sad and felt bad about it because he felt like he was losing her as a mother figure,” Toriseva explained. “And her response was, ‘Chris, just think of me as 70% mom and 30% girlfriend. It’ll all be fine.’ “
Attorney Shari McPhail says he lived as a virtual prisoner, because Harbert exerted complete control over every aspect of his life.
“She controlled where he was going, who he was going with,” McPhail noted. “She got upset when he wanted to go to prom in high school. She would chase him down with her car if he went with someone she didn’t approve of. And when he became older, she continued to control him. He wanted to go to college, and she said no.”
Eventually they went on to have four children together.
His lawyers say the children then became Harbert’s way to control Birch, by threatening that he would never see them again.
Toriseva and McPhail say they’ve been contacted by dozens of newspapers all over the nation, wanting information about the case.
They say the next step, after the defendants answer the complaint, will be to prepare for trial by getting witness depositions.
They are naming as defendants not only Harbert but also the Ohio County Board of Education and then-principal of Wheeling Park High School Christine Carder, for allegedly knowing about the situation and failing to take action to stop it.
Meanwhile, Harbert’s lawyer is speaking out on her behalf. Mark Kepple is an attorney with Bailey and Wyant, PLLC. On Thursday afternoon, he released the following statement regarding Harbert and this case:
“Elizabeth Harbert appreciates the wide range of support she has received from family, friends, and colleagues through this difficult time. Ms. Harbert requests privacy to protect her four beautiful children from these reckless and false allegations. However, given the use of the press by Mr. Birch to spread salacious lies about her, a response is necessary. The allegations of wrongdoing and inappropriate conduct are denied. Ms. Harbert challenges any and all allegations which suggest she consented to a relationship with Mr. Birch when he was a student in the Ohio County School System. Mr. Birch’s actions and his lawsuit represent a disgusting new low in the history of American jurisprudence. This lawsuit is nothing more than a money grab and an underhanded attempt to separate a mother from her children. We are confident that the civil justice system will expose the decade-plus history of the physical and emotional abuse she suffered at the hands of Mr. Birch and vindicate her fully.”