Accident or murder? Police, families are still baffled by the boys’ 2002 death on a rural western Pennsylvania road

Accident or murder?  Police, families are still baffled by the boys’ 2002 death on a rural western Pennsylvania road

More than 21 years after her son was found dead and his friend fatally wounded on a western Pennsylvania road, Ailif Rausch is still searching for answers.

Early on July 17, 2002, a driver found Scott Fosnot, Rausch’s son, and Sean Burr, both 15, lying on Cash Dollar Road in the rural town of Forward, Butler County. Scott was pronounced dead at the scene and Shawn later died at a Pittsburgh hospital.

Both boys would have turned 16 within the next week. No one has ever been charged in this case.

Were the boys murdered and the scene manipulated to look like an accident? Was one of them hit by a car and the other killed by a panicked driver afraid to leave a witness? Were they killed in an unintentional hit-and-run accident?

These questions have swirled around the case, frustrating relatives and police for more than two decades.

The mysterious circumstances surrounding the death led the boys’ families to conclude the worst: the boys had been murdered. Rausch told PennLive she just wants perpetrators to take responsibility and provide comfort to families so they stop reliving the trauma every July.

“I want them to come forward so the case is solved. We don’t have to do this year after year. I don’t feel the boys can rest in peace until their murders are solved,” she said. “.

But the state police have not decided one way or the other.

“You have to approach this with an open mind,” said Trooper Max DeLuca, the lead investigator on the case. “You don’t want to have a tunnel vision of whether it was intentional, whether it was an accident or not. You just have to follow the facts, stay focused on the investigation and what you know.”

Tips still come in, especially when stories appear in Pittsburgh media on the anniversary of a death, but “a lot of the tips are hearsay upon rumor upon rumor,” DeLuca said.

Rausch now lives in Moon Township, Allegheny County, on a plot of land on the edge of town where chickens roam, and her donkey and horse have plenty of space in their fenced-in barn.

Patti Burr did not return messages from PennLive. However, she and her husband Barry, who died last July, have spoken to reporters in the past.

In a 2012 story originally published in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Patti Bauer said, “I don’t think it was an accident,” and Barry Bauer said theories about it being an accident “don’t make sense.”

Rausch said her son and Shawn were friends who recently reconciled after a falling out. The two shared a love of the outdoors, especially fishing and riding all-terrain vehicles.

It was a summer Tuesday night when they walked to a party about a mile and a half from their homes. The boys had been drinking alcohol, but officials said they were not drunk when they were killed.

Scott Fosnot, Elif Rausch’s 15-year-old son, and his friend Shawn Burr were murdered on a rural Butler County road in the early morning hours of July 17, 2002. The case was never solved. Sally Maxon | Special to PennLive

Most reports state the boys left the party on foot at about 11:30 p.m., and were found about two hours later lying about 10 feet away on a dark stretch of Cash Dollar Road.

“If you’re not familiar with this road, you pretty much don’t know it’s there,” said Rausch, who believes it indicates the involvement of a local resident.

There were no skid marks, broken glass or vehicle parts as are typically left at the scene, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in a 2017 story about desperate families seeking help from psychics.

Blood was found, but it was 200 feet away from where the boys were discovered.

Police told Rausch that her son, Scott, died as a result of the collision, suffering a ruptured aorta and a ruptured kidney. But Rausch said her son’s body did not appear as if it had been dragged because there were no scratches or marks besides some minor scratches on his face.

Shawn suffered a fractured skull and was airlifted to Allegheny General Hospital where he died. Rausch described the wounds as three roughly connected circles.

“Someone hit him on the top of the head with something,” she said, trying to understand the injuries.

Barry Burr told the Post-Gazette in 2017 that the injuries were so serious that they had to put a hat on their son to attend his open-casket funeral. He added: “There were no other injuries.” “This is strange to me.”

Rausch is convinced that the killers “targeted” the boys, beat them, then put them on the road and drove the car to make it appear as if a hit-and-run had occurred.

State Police have assumed in the past that Scott was hit by a car and that Shawn was hit in the head by a side mirror, but DeLuca was more hesitant when speaking to PennLive in late August.

The policeman said he would refrain from sharing his thoughts on what happened “until we sit down and talk to that person responsible and compare the statement to the evidence we have.”

The lack of physical evidence at the scene could be a result of how older vehicles, especially pickup trucks, were built or modified by owners, DeLuca said.

Older pickups had recessed headlights, and owners in the area often raised their trucks or would add equipment to the front to help with agricultural or commercial operations, he said.

“There’s a lot of potential there,” DeLuca said.

Rausch said that Scott, the second of her three children, was friendly and non-confrontational, but his friend Sean “was a fighter” who would not hesitate to defend himself and Scott.

With no evidence to suggest fighting, Rausch believes the boys either knew the perpetrators involved or were ambushed while walking along the dark, isolated road.

Ailif Rausch believes her son Scott Fosnot and his friend Sean Burr were “targeted” and killed for some reason, then driven off on a rural Butler County road in July 2002. Sally Maxon | Special to PennLive

During an interview at her home in August, Rausch was quick to offer several theories about why the boys were killed, and shared the names of those she believed had a role in their deaths.

One theory that Rausch found plausible involved a local man, who did not like boys, being kicked out of a bar and threatening to return with a gun. The man was angry and supposedly never returned to the bar, and Rausch said he and the boys likely got into a fight.

“He was questioned, but he defended himself very quickly,” Rausch said.

Another theory involves a man who was supposedly having an affair with the mother of the boys’ friend, who found out about it.

Rausch said the story was that the man was driving home from a concert and accidentally hit the two boys and took the opportunity to kill them so they would not reveal his affair.

“He did law, too,” she said.

She added that it was also possible that a third man who Rausch described as a drug dealer at the time was involved, but people were still too afraid to come forward and tell police what they knew about the man’s connection to the boys’ deaths.

“There are so many different stories from different people and all scenarios are possible,” she said.

DeLuca could not say how many people he had written off as suspects, but he said a handful of people refused to speak with police.

In addition to news stories about the boys’ deaths, the case was featured on the “Catch My Killer” podcast in October 2020. Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers has a $10,000 reward for information leading to what it calls the “cold murders” of the boys being solved.

Information regarding the case can be submitted to the Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-4-PA-TIPS.

Rausch shared her frustration with the investigation, saying state police “got it wrong from the beginning not for lack of trying, but for lack of experience.” However, Rausch believes the case will eventually be resolved.

“I just think the police need to help with this because there are too many pending cases in Butler County,” she said, claiming that the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office and the FBI are “willing to help” but the state police are not interested.

DeLuca also remains optimistic that the case will one day be solved. Anyone with information about the deaths can call DeLuca at 724-284-8100.

“We just need one person with direct knowledge who is willing to come forward and provide some information that will put this case to rest,” he said.

As the years go by, DeLuca said he hopes the guilt officials carry will prompt them to finally talk to police. “Maybe something happens in their life where they realize, ‘Yes, I need to move on with this,'” he said.

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