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Beloved bus driver killed during robbery

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A school is in mourning and shock after a beloved bus driver was murdered in her Wyoming County home when she walked in on a robbery.

Elaine Birchfield, 60, was killed Tuesday evening in her Brenton area home after she came in and interrupted a man who was in the process of robbing her. Her truck was taken from her home.

Gilbert police officers saw the truck Wednesday morning in Mingo County, stopped it and arrested John New, 20, of Briar Creek, according to the Wyoming County Sheriff's Department.

New was charged with first-degree murder, grand larceny and daytime robbery. He is being held without bond at Southern Regional Jail.   

The cause of Birchfield's death has not yet been released.

Carolyn Hatfield, principal of Huff Consolidated Elementary and Middle School in Hanover, was shocked and saddened when she heard the news Tuesday night from another bus driver.

The children on Birchfield's route, which includes those from pre-Kindergarten to eighth grade, didn't know that Tuesday's bus ride home would be the last time they would ever see her. 

"There she was yesterday on the bus," Hatfield said. "The students that rode her bus are very sad and even students who didn't ride her bus can't understand.

"Our younger children are asking questions, wondering how someone could do this."

Hatfield said teachers were working with the children and talking to them.

Hatfield remembered the woman as a kind and compassionate person. She said she loved children and horses. 

"She was concerned about the students and really cared about them," Hatfield said. "She always showed an interest in them and their schoolwork and things. She would joke with them and carry on conversations."

She said Birchfield was very interested in horses and even participated in showing horses in the past. Hatfield said the bus driver still kept some.

A divorced mother and grandmother, Birchfield lived alone, Hatfield said.

Birchfield sometimes came inside in the mornings after the children got off the bus just to chat, the principal said, adding that she was friendly to everyone.

"She was just a good person to have on your school's team," Hatfield said. "It's just heartbreaking."

Wyoming County Schools Superintendent Frank Blackwell says grief counselors were at the school Wednesday.

Blackwell said Birchfield's death was shocking to everyone.

"This is normally a very peaceful area," Blackwell said Wednesday. "This isn't something that happens down here very often so it shocked everybody. You just don't understand why things like this happen."

He said Birchfield, who had worked for the school system for two years as a substitute driver and three years as a full-time driver, was dependable and had a great personality.

"She was a real good bus driver," he said. "She was well thought of and she's going to be missed dearly down here.

"It's been a sad day in Wyoming County, to see something so senseless happen."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at or 304-348-4850.


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