Former Wheeling Park High School Teacher Elizabeth Harbert Arrested on Sexual Assault Charges
Harbert allegedly abused former student
WHEELING — Ohio County sheriff’s deputies on Wednesday arrested former teacher Elizabeth Harbert for allegedly sexually abusing a former student.
Harbert, 42, of 8 Four Sisters Drive, Moundsville, was arraigned by Ohio County Magistrate Patricia Murphy on charges of sexual abuse by a parent or guardian, being in a position of trust and allowing sexual abuse to be inflicted upon a child, and displaying of sex organs by a parent, guardian or custodian.
Harbert posted $10,000 bond and was released Wednesday afternoon, according to information provided by the magistrate’s office.
She resigned from her job as a teacher at Wheeling Park High School at the start of the current school year.
The former student, Christopher Birch, was 13 years old and in the eighth grade in 2005 when Harbert, then a science teacher at Bridge Street Middle School, began grooming him for a sexual relationship, according to a civil lawsuit filed by Birch in Ohio County Circuit Court earlier this month.
The two ended up living together for the next 15 years, and now have four children — one of whom was born when Birch was 16 and a student at Wheeling Park High School, and Harbert was a teacher there, according to the lawsuit.
Birch and his oldest child, referred to in the lawsuit as “B.H.,” are represented by Wheeling attorneys Teresa Toriseva and Shari McPhail.
In the civil suit, they are suing Harbert, the Ohio County Board of Education and former Wheeling Park High School principal and current Ohio County Board of Education member Christine Carder.
The criminal complaint filed in magistrate court Wednesday contains many of the same details of the civil complaint filed on April 4.
Both complaints provide details of how Harbert and her then husband took Birch into their home when he was an eighth grade student at Bridge Street Middle School. Birch and her husband were his track coaches at the time, and he had been living with his grandmother.
Both complaints state that during the summer of 2005 — just prior to starting his freshman year at Wheeling Park High School — Birch allegedly had his first sexual encounter with Harbert. He was 14 at the time and she was 30. Harbert would go on to divorce her husband.
She became pregnant in 2007, when Birch was 16. The complaints site DNA evidence reporting the chance of Birch’s being the father of the child at 99.99 percent.
The civil complaint focuses largely on the Ohio County Board of Education, and alleges school employees were negligent by not properly investigating reports of sexual abuse by Harbert against Birch. It states employees within the district received multiple reports alleging Harbert was sexually abusing Birch, and that it should have been cause to investigate these when the single divorcee appeared to be pregnant.
The criminal complaint filed Wednesday, meanwhile, states on Jan. 28 current Ohio County Schools Superintendent Kim Miller contacted the West Virginia State Police after she received a sexual abuse allegation complaint from Birch — who graduated from WPHS in 2009.
The criminal complaint adds information that after Harbert became pregnant with their first child, Birch moved out of her home and back with his grandmother in Wheeling. The complaint states their sexual relationship continued at the grandmother’s home when she wasn’t present.
The criminal complaint also states the couple regularly visited the home of Birch’s cousin while he was a juvenile. Kimber Anders told officers she witnessed Harbert and Birch “hold hands, rub each other’s legs, and act as a romantic couple.”