When investigators confronted William James Vahey with pornographic images of teen boys found on Vahey’s flash drive, he told them: “I was molested as a boy, that is why I do this. I have been doing this my whole life.”
The words horrified officials at an elite school in London, where Vahey taught history from 2009 until mid-2013.
Vahey, a part-time Hilton Head Island resident accused of molesting as many as 90 students since 2008, taught at a number of American schools abroad. He killed himself March 21 by plunging a knife into his chest in a Luverne, Minn., hotel room as the FBI began investigating his 40-year teaching career.
As many as 60 of the 90 victims depicted in the digital images have been identified as students at Southbank International School in London, according to the school’s chairman of governors. Students are children of diplomats, embassy employees and foreign business executives.
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Sir Chris Woodhead, the chairman, spoke Thursday of his “horror” when the FBI told him that 50 to 60 of the boys in the photos were Southbank students.
Parents of students were devastated by the reports.
“I am shocked, very shocked,” one woman told The Guardian of London. She said her son was in Vahey’s class and went on a field trip with him. “I couldn’t sleep last night.”
One student’s father called the situation “massively worrying,” The Guardian reported. Asked how he felt about the news, he said: “I am a parent, how would you think I would react?”
He added: “The kids have a real problem right now.”
Woodhead also told investigators about another incident involving Vahey and a Southbank student, according to The Sun, another British paper.
During an overnight trip, a student became ill, and Vahey took the boy to his room to care for him.
“It wasn’t picked up at the time, but a few months later a teacher heard gossiping on a minibus, and the incident was investigated,” Woodhead said. “The boy’s parents were talked to, the boy talked to, Vahey talked to, and the boy’s parents agreed that there was nothing untoward, and the matter shouldn’t be pursued.”
Woodhead now wonders whether he and the school could have done more to protect their students.
AFFIDAVIT REVEALS NEW DETAILS
Vahey, who also maintained a home in London, taught middle and high school history at the prestigious school and founded the “Travelers Club,” in which he lead overnight trips with students to other countries. According to officials at various schools where he taught, Vahey liked to chaperone the trips.
After Southbank, Vahey began teaching ninth-grade history at the American International School in Managua, Nicaragua, on Aug. 12, 2013.
In November, he reported personal items had been stolen from his apartment, according to an affidavit filed in Houston by an FBI agent. The affidavit did not specify what those possessions were.
The only person with access to Vahey’s apartment was a school maid. She was terminated after Vahey reported the theft.
On March 11, the maid, not identified by name in the affidavit, brought a USB flash drive she’d taken from Vahey’s computer to the school. She said she’d looked at its contents and that school officials should as well.
A school employee did and found several folders titled with locations and corresponding dates, such as “Panama Trip,” “Costa Rica Trip,” and “Basketball Trip.”
The employee opened a folder titled, “Spring 2013.”
There he found pornographic images of boys, approximately 12 to 14 years old, the affidavit said. They appeared unconscious, apparently drugged. Some were posed with other unconscious boys. In many images, boys’ private areas were exposed and an adult male’s hand is touching them. Most of the boys had blond or red hair, pale skin and ruddy cheeks, according to the affidavit.
The employee said the photographs dated to 2008, and that the folder titles matched places where Vahey had traveled with students.
The school employee asked Vahey if he had given the boys date rape drugs. Vahey denied that but did say he had given them sleeping pills, the affidavit said.
The school immediately fired Vahey, and notified the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua, which, in turn, notified the FBI, according to the affidavit.
The next day, Vahey flew from Nicaragua to Atlanta.
On March 14, FBI agents in Houston interviewed the maid by phone. They asked for a search warrant for the flash drive on March 19. It was granted.
On March 21, Vahey was found dead of a self-inflicted knife wound in the hotel room in Luverne.
A MEASURE OF RELIEF
Officials at the American International School in Nicaragua have found at least a measure of relief.
“In our case, we feel fortunate that Mr. Vahey did not take part in any extracurricular trips, inside or outside of Nicaragua, during the time that he worked for the school,” the administration said in a Thursday news release.
They weren’t the first to identify Vahey as a sex offender.
He was arrested in 1969 on six counts of child molestation in California. On Jan. 22, 1970, he pleaded guilty to one count and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and five years of probation.
He was required to register as a sex offender in California for the rest of his life. Records show he registered in 1970, but never renewed that registration.
Vahey went on to teach at 10 American international schools in nine countries — Nicaragua, Great Britain, Venezuela, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Iran, Spain and Lebanon.
He was 64 when he died, married and father of two adult children. His wife, Jean Vahey, is the executive director of the European Council of International Schools and was the superintendent of Escuela Campo Alegre American international school in Caracas, Venezuela, from 2002 to 2009. William Vahey was a history teacher there. Jean Vahey is currently on compassionate leave, according to the council’s website.
When the schools where Vahey applied for jobs conducted background checks, former employers gave him glowing references and his criminal record appeared clean, officials have said.
WARNING: This search warrant application CONTAINS SOME GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS. Read at your own discretion. Also, The Island Packet editors removed pages 4-10 of the original 24-page document because they contained "boilerplate" material that did not pertain to the Vahey matter directly. The full document can be found here.