Mary Kay Letourneau and Her Student Victim: Inside the Relationship That Shocked a Nation
For years, Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau, her former sixth-grade student, professed their love for each other — even as she spent years in prison for raping him when he was a boy and she was his teacher
Teacher Mary Kay Letourneau Meets Future Victim 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 1997's revelation that she had raped one of her students, a 12-year-old boy, that previous observation took on a darker tone.
She first met the victim, 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 claimed to 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."
An Obsession Deepens
Letourneau formed a 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 illicit 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 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 child in her sixth-grade class, she suffered a series of emotional jolts. Her marriage was in trouble, and in January 1996, Letourneau suffered a miscarriage that left her on the brink of a breakdown.
She apparently took solace in her connection with Fualaau.
Letourneau Draws Her Victim Closer
In a 1998 book they authored 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 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 him. “I had promised myself it would not happen before my divorce,” she wrote. But a few days before Vili’s 13th birthday, the sexual abuse began.
The Abuse is Exposed
Letourneau 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 sexual abuse 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 victim's baby. 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 baby girl named Audrey. Three months later she pleaded guilty to two counts of child rape.
'She Doesn't Believe She Did Anything Wrong'
At her sentencing, Letourneau 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.
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 victim.
But 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 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."
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."
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?'"
'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.
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 marriage and parenting their two teenage daughters, Audrey and Georgia.
When asked whether she felt “guilty” or “disgusted” with herself for abusing Fualaau, Letourneau replied, “I loved him very much, and I kind of thought, ‘Why can’t it ever just be a kiss?’”
Sharing New Details
During their sit-down with Walters, Fualaau and Letourneau spoke candidly about their nearly decades-long relationship.
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.
Fualaau Files for Separation
Mary Kay Letourneau Dies
In early 2020, Letourneau was diagnosed with cancer. The cancer metastasized and her health deteriorated quickly. Letourneau died on July 7 after a six-month battle. In a statement, her family said that she "fought tirelessly against this terrible disease." She was 58.
• With KC BAKER, ADAM CARLSON, BILL HEWITT, STEVE HELLING, TIERNEY McAFEE and ALEX TRESNIOWSKI