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Teacher Mary Kay Letourneau Meets Future Husband in Second Grade Class
As a teacher, Mary Kay Letourneau was praised as someone who could see things through the eyes of a child. But with the revelation in 1997 that she had had sex with one of her students, a 12-year-old boy, people began to suspect that she could not see things any other way.
She first met the child, later identified as Vili Fualaau, when he was her second-grade student in suburban Seattle. "There was a respect, an insight, a spirit, an understanding between us that grew over time," she told The Seattle Times in ’97. "It was the kind of feeling you have with a brother or sister — a feeling that they're part of your life forever."
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An Obsessive Connection Deepens
Letourneau formed an especially close relationship with Fualaau when he was a second-grader who showed remarkable artistic ability that she delighted in cultivating. But she later said that — at first — there was nothing sexual about her feelings. "I didn't know what it meant," she said. "I felt that one day he might marry my daughter."
Over the next several years, Letourneau kept in close touch with the child. She bought him art supplies, took him to museums and encouraged him to develop his talent for poetry.
Then, starting in the fall of 1995, when Letourneau had the boy in her sixth-grade class, she suffered a series of emotional jolts. By that time her marriage was in trouble, and to make matters worse, in January 1996, Letourneau suffered a miscarriage that left her on the brink of a breakdown.
She apparently took solace in her relationship with Fualaau.
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Letourneau and the Boy Grow Closer
In a 1998 book they wrote with a ghostwriter — titled Un Seul Crime, L’Amour (Only One Crime, Love) — Letourneau and Fualaau set forth their account of the relationship’s history, from her recognition of his artistic talent in her second-grade class to his sexual precocity when she had him in class again as a sixth grader at Shorewood Elementary in Burien, Washington.
At age 12, Fualaau claimed, he bet a friend $20 he would have sex with Letourneau. When he began spending time at her house doing schoolwork, Letourneau — unhappy in a troubled marriage — began to fantasize about sex with him too. “I had promised myself it would not happen before my divorce,” she wrote. But a few days before Vili’s 13th birthday, it did.
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An Affair Exposed
In Letourneau's view, the relationship was more than simply physical, and she told Oprah Winfrey that she considered the boy "the love of my life." The teenager, who had given her a silver ring, said after her arrest that they had planned to have a baby to strengthen their ties.
Letourneau has since denied planning the first pregnancy, but conceded that she was "not unhappy" when she learned she was going to have a child. The affair came to light in February 1997, when her then-husband, Steve Letourneau, found some of his wife's love letters to Fualaau at their home. What he didn't know at the time was that she was already six months pregnant with the boy's child. After a relative of Steve's called officials at Shorewood Elementary to report the liaison, Letourneau was questioned and arrested.
Several months later, in May she gave birth to a healthy baby girl, named Audrey. Three months later she pleaded guilty to two counts of child rape.
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'She Doesn't Believe She Did Anything Wrong'
At her sentencing, Letourneau expressed remorse and pleaded for leniency. Even the boy's mother spoke on Letourneau's behalf. "I feel Mary has been punished enough for her mistake," she said.
Giving Letourneau the benefit of the doubt, Judge Linda Lau sentenced her to seven and a half years, suspending all but six months on the condition that Letourneau enter a treatment program for sex offenders, take medication for her bipolar disorder and have absolutely no contact with the boy.
Even then, prosecutors argued Letourneau was not to be trusted, and it soon became clear they had reason. While finishing her six months behind bars, Letourneau began taking the drug Depakote to treat her bipolar disorder. But the drug had side effects and within days of her release on Jan. 2, 1998, she had stopped taking it and was rebelling against her sexual-deviancy counselor. As prosecutor Lisa Johnson later told the court, "She doesn't believe she needs treatment, because she doesn't believe she did anything wrong."
On the evening of Feb. 2, 1998, Faulaau phoned Letourneau and early the next morning they were found in her car. Faulaau reportedly told his counselor that he and Letourneau had sex at least once during the month she was out on parole, and she became pregnant with their second child, another daughter, to whom she gave birth behind bars. An angry Judge Lau immediately ordered Letourneau back to prison to finish her sentence.
"I would imagine [they] will get married as soon as she gets out of prison," a friend of Letourneau’s told PEOPLE in 1998. "The two of them want to be together. They're drawn together like magnets."
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After Prison, a Wedding and a 'Normal' Life
Letourneau was released from prison in August 2004. Not long after, she and Fualaau successfully petitioned to have their court-ordered no-contact order lifted. They were married in May 2005 before 200 guests at the Columbia Winery in Woodinville, Washington.
“They loved each other,” Letourneau’s attorney, David Gehrke, later told PEOPLE. “They were devoted to each other. They courted for 10 years and they were married for 10 years. Yes, he was a minor, but they had back-channel contact during the time they weren’t supposed to be speaking. Not as regularly as they would have otherwise, but they were in contact. This was a couple who was in love.”
One year after their wedding, the couple sat down for an interview with PEOPLE.
“We do normal things,” said Letourneau, who sometimes had all four of her children staying with her and Fualaau and their daughters at the three-bedroom beachside house they rent in Normandy Park, Washington. She said then that the family "all went out to dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant, then over to Blockbuster to get a movie.”
Letourneau’s four other kids were slowly re-entering her life at the time. Fualaau said his relationship with Letourneau’s oldest son, who is only one year younger, could be strained: “I feel a bit of competition, like, ‘Who deserves mom’s attention more?' "
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'They're Both Adults Now'
The couple largely stayed out of the public eye after their 2005 wedding and the resulting media attention. But in May 2009, they appeared at a “Hot Teacher Night” at a Seattle sports bar. She emceed and he was the deejay.
“It’s turned into sort of a love story,” the bar owner told the Associated Press at the time. “I realize it had a sick twist at the beginning, but they’re both adults now. They’re both married by the state of Washington.”
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Speaking Out After 10 Years of Marriage
In 2015, Fualaa and Letourneau sat down with Barbara Walters for an ABC interview where they discussed their relationship, their marriage and parenting their two teenage daughters, Audrey and Georgia.
When asked whether she felt “guilty” or “disgusted” with herself for having an affair with Fualaau, Letourneau replied, “I loved him very much, and I kind of thought, ‘Why can’t it ever just be a kiss?’ ”
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Sharing New Details of Their Lives Together
During their sit-down with Walters, Fualaau and Letourneau spoke candidly about their nearly decades-long relationship — and their first sexual encounter. “The incident was a late night, and it didn’t stop with a kiss,” Letourneau said. “And I thought that it would, and it didn’t.”
Fualaau confessed that he struggled with depression during this “dark time” and the years that followed. “I’m surprised I'm still alive today,” he said. “I went through a really dark time.” Not having a strong support system when Letourneau became pregnant with his children was the hardest part, he said.
Meanwhile, according to Letourneau, their two daughters seemed to know about their parents illicit history without having to be told.
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Fualaau Files for Separation
“I’m convinced they were totally in love,” he said. “But sometimes, people who are totally in love have trouble staying in love. They slowly drift apart. One day, you wake up and realize that things are different with your partner.”
What the future holds for the couple remains unclear. “If one spouse files for separation, there are opportunities to work out their differences through things like counseling,” Gehrke said. “But they may also just move on with their lives.”
• With KC BAKER, ADAM CARLSON, BILL HEWITT, STEVE HELLING, TIERNEY McAFEE and ALEX TRESNIOWSKI