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KIDNAP, ESCAPE - - AND DEATH

Two Days After She Survived An Attack, A Teacher's Body Is Discovered At Home At The Bottom Of The Stairs

The Hartford Courant

May 7, 2002

MYSTIC

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It is a mystery that has this small community known for its historic seaport buzzing.

A second-grade teacher was kidnapped Thursday night by a friend of her husband's, police say. The teacher escaped after a harrowing ordeal during which the suspect disabled her with a stun gun, choked her and banged her head on a concrete floor, authorities say.

Police arrested the suspect early Friday, and hours later Leslie Buck returned to her Dean's Mill School classroom, her face bruised, her hands red and swollen and her throat sore.

"She said she wanted to be in the classroom because it is where she felt the most comfortable,'' said Principal Dennis Laven. "She wanted her life to get back to normal. We thought the worst of it was over.''

On Saturday, Laven got a call that Buck had been found dead that night in her home on Mason's Island Road. He instantly remembered his last words to Buck on Friday.

"The last thing I said to Leslie ... was to enjoy the weekend because things could only go up,'' Laven said, recalling the faculty's relief. "We all thought it was the happy ending to the story. I still can't believe that happy ending didn't happen.''

Instead, authorities have a baffling puzzle to piece together. Police are trying to determine whether the man Buck accused of kidnapping her, Russell E. Kirby, 64, of Ledyard, might also have inflicted injuries that led to her death two days later.

Preliminary results of an autopsy performed Monday found that Buck had died from head injuries, but the cause or the time at which the injuries occurred had not yet been determined, according to the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Police have charged Kirby with first-degree kidnapping, burglary and robbery and second-degree assault. Kirby was in custody at the Corrigan Correctional Institution in Montville on Saturday at the time that Buck's body was found.

Buck's husband, Charles, said that he found the 57-year-old teacher lying at the bottom of the stairs Saturday evening when he came home from work. The longtime firefighter knew that she was already dead.

Police have not filed any charges, said Stonington Police Capt. Jerry Desmond, but they are looking for any connections because the kidnapping happened so close to Buck's death.

Charles Buck said his wife told him that Kirby attacked her in the garage as she returned home from a teaching function Thursday night. Kirby allegedly sneaked up on her, shot her with a stun gun and threw her into the trunk of her car.

His wife told Buck that Kirby drove her to his Ledyard home and then made her lie down on his couch. Charles Buck began to cry as he recalled his wife's fear that she was about to be raped, but she said that Kirby did not sexually assault her.

Instead, Kirby allegedly ordered her back into the car and they drove around the area for a while. During the drive, Kirby allegedly told his bound hostage that her husband owed him money for landscaping work, Buck recalled Monday.

But Buck said he didn't know what Kirby was talking about. He said he always paid Kirby for the odd jobs he did around the house, such as mowing the grass, and had never heard Kirby complain about the amount.

Charles Buck recalled how his wife had escaped from her captor. He said that Leslie had loosened the ropes that her kidnapper had used to bind her and sneaked a spare car key out of her purse.

She saw her chance when Kirby pulled over and got out of the car to check on a possible engine problem, Buck said. She simply slid over, pushed the key into the ignition and drove home as fast as she could, Buck said.

Charles Buck said he knew something was wrong when he came home from the fire department, where he serves as a volunteer firefighter and president of the taxing district, and his wife wasn't home. She returned home just before 11 p.m.

An upset Leslie Buck told her husband that she had been held hostage by Kirby and that she hated both of them, Charles Buck recalled. He said she had never liked Kirby, who used to rent a garage across the street from the couple's home, and blamed her husband for continuing to do business with Kirby.

Charles Buck said that things appeared to be getting back to normal for the couple when they woke up Saturday morning. The couple, who referred to themselves as "Mr. and Mrs. Rut,'' went out to breakfast and did the usual weekend chores.

She decided to stay home and read in the backyard when Buck, an electrician who owns his own business, went into the office to pay some bills. The last time they spoke was that afternoon, Buck said, when she called him at work.

She asked him to buy her some pepper spray so that she could feel safe, Buck said.

The news of Buck's death rocked the staff and students at Dean's Mill School, Laven said. Administrators called the parents of each of the 21 students in Buck's second-grade class on Sunday to tell them the news.

Laven has hired a special education aide who already worked at the school to assume Buck's teaching responsibilities for the last month of the semester. He spent Monday afternoon boxing up Buck's personal effects for her husband.

He said that her colorful second-story classroom, which is covered wall-to-wall in reading charts, art projects and inspirational posters, hinted at Buck's widely known sense of humor, devotion to hard-luck students and general feistiness.

Counselors were available on Monday to talk to anyone who needed to grieve, Laven said. Everything went as smoothly as possible, although Laven predicted that some of the real challenges for the staff lay in the days ahead.

"Leslie was a huge part of this school community,'' Laven said. "We will think about her every day. We will always keep her in our hearts and in our memories. You can't replace somebody like Leslie.''