As the FBI spearheads national and international efforts to identify the victims of an admitted serial child molester, new details are emerging about the suspect, part-time Hilton Head Island resident William James Vahey.
Vahey’s life began unraveling on March 12, when he was fired from the American Nicaraguan School in Managua, where he taught ninth-grade history, according to an FBI news release.
He reportedly admitted to molesting boys his entire life, a confession that came after a school employee gave the agents Vahey’s USB drive. It contained pornographic images of boys, approximately 12-14 years old, the release said.
The photographs dated to 2008 and depicted at least 90 victims. In them, the boys appeared unconscious, and Vahey admitted to giving them sleeping pills before molesting them.
“Because he provided some of them with sleeping pills prior to committing these acts, some may not be aware they were victimized,” said Denise Taiste, a spokesperson for the Columbia FBI office.
That’s why the FBI is asking for the public’s assistance in finding additional victims.
“By coming forward, they can get closure. We have great victims assistance programs here with the FBI, and we can provide victims with whatever they need to bring healing in their life,” Taiste said.
She could not say whether the FBI suspects there are Hilton Head area victims.
“We don’t have that confirmed,” she said. “We can’t speculate that. There are victims period, whether in Hilton Head, overseas, or elsewhere in the U.S. We don’t know all the areas in the U.S. where there could be victims.”
Dunlap admitted it is possible there are victims in the Hilton Head area since Vahey has targeted children from all over the world.
At this point in the investigation, some victims have been identified, according to Shauna Dunlap, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Houston Division. Dunlap, however, could not comment on how many victims have been identified or discuss their locations.
“We do believe the chances are the victim pool may be multi-national,” she said.
Vahey committed suicide at a hotel in Luverne, Minn., on March 21, after the FBI began closing in.
A HOME ON HILTON HEAD
Vahey, a U.S. citizen born in New York, pled guilty to child molestation charges in California in 1969.
Since 1972, he has taught at 10 private American schools in nine countries — including Nicaragua, Great Britain, Venezuela, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Iran, Spain and Lebanon.
He maintained two residences — one in London and another on Hilton Head.
He acquired the Hilton Head resident in Sea Pines at 8 Green Wing Teal Road, in 2008. The home is valued at $1,231,500 according to Beaufort County tax rolls.
The FBI’s Dunlap had no information about the amount of time Vahey spent on Hilton Head.
His connection to Luverne, the scene of his suicide, is unknown, but the FBI acknowledged the possibility Vahey had family in the area.
The March 29-30 bulletin of the town’s St. Catherine’s Catholic Church asked congregants to “pray for eternal rest for Bill Vahey,” who was identified as the son of a parishioner and the brother of another.
The bulletin also said a funeral Mass would be held “at his home parish in South Carolina,” on Wednesday, which would have been April 2. The church could not confirm whether the memo was in reference to William James Vahey.
No funeral Mass has been held or is scheduled at a Catholic church on Hilton Head or in Bluffton, according to church officials at Holy Family Catholic Church and St. Francis By the Sea on Hilton Head, and St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in Bluffton.
Vahey was 64 when he took his life. He was married and had two adult children.
His wife, Jean Vahey, is the executive director of the European Council of International Schools.
She is currently on “compassionate leave to be with her family at a difficult time,” according to a statement on the council’s website.
Jean Vahey was the superintendent of Escuela Campo Alegre, an American International school located in Caracas, Venezuela, from 2002 to 2009.
During that time, William Vahey was employed there as a middle school history teacher.
The school’s current superintendent, Gregory Hedger, detailed the school’s hiring process in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
In it, he wrote, “While we are confident the systems in place assure the safety of students currently at ECA, we are continuing to review and revise our policies and procedures in this regard.”
The investigation is being lead by the FBI’s Houston Division because its agents, members of the Crimes Against Children Task Force, are often asked to assist law enforcement from other countries when U.S. citizens are involved.
In addition to the FBI, investigators include international and domestic law enforcement agencies, including the Department of State-Diplomatic Security Service.
“It’s very important we complete a thorough investigation so we can ensure to the best of our ability that something like this never happens again,” Dunlap said.