The number of possible victims of a teacher suspected of drugging and molesting boys during a four-decade career at nearly a dozen schools around the world has risen sharply, with the FBI saying hundreds of people have contacted it about the case.
Calling William Vahey one of the most prolific pedophiles in memory, the FBI had said that the teacher molested at least 90 boys whose photos were found on a memory drive stolen by his maid in Nicaragua.
But that figure appeared low after Special Agent Shauna Dunlap said Tuesday that the bureau has now "been contacted by several hundred individuals from around the globe wishing either to reach out as potential victims or provide information in the ongoing investigation."
Dunlap said officials wanted as many people as possible to call or contact the FBI through its website in order to receive counselling and provide information about Vahey, who killed himself at age 64 after the evidence of molestation emerged.
Vahey taught at 10 schools on four continents and was one of the most beloved teachers in the world of international schools that serve the children of diplomats, well-off Americans and local elites. His case has rattled the community of international schools, where parents are being told their children may have been victims, and administrators are scurrying to close loopholes exposed by Vahey's abuses.
Apparently, not even Vahey's victims knew they had been molested. The double-cream Oreos that he handed out at bedtime on school trips were laced with sleeping pills — enough to leave the boys unconscious as he touched them and posed them for nude photographs.
Although Vahey, then 20, pleaded guilty in 1969 to a single charge of lewd and lascivious behaviour, after admitting to pinching the penises of eight young boys at a California high school where he taught swimming, it didn't keep him from embarking on a series of teaching jobs that put him in close contact with children.
He began his international teaching career at the American School in Tehran, the first in a series of stays around the Middle East, Europe and Asia. He taught history, social studies and related subjects in Lebanon, Spain, Iran, Greece, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, almost always to middle school students. He also coached basketball and led school trips.
Authorities may have missed a warning sign during a later teaching stint in Venezuela: Two students under Vahey's care were rushed to a hospital after falling unconscious in their hotel room on a trip, parents and staff said. Officials were unable to determine why and chalked it up to a possible failing air conditioner.
Seven years later, Vahey and his wife went to work at the Westminster campus of London's Southbank International School, with about 350 pupils from 70 countries. Police say at least 60 of the 90 or so children in the images on the USB drive stolen by the maid were from that school.
Southbank's chair of governors, Chris Woodhead, told Britain's Press Association there had been one complaint against Vahey, but, "The boy's parents agreed that there was nothing untoward and the matter shouldn't be pursued."
In early March, the maid who stole the memory drive handed it to American Nicaraguan school director Gloria Doll, who found it contained photos of unconscious boys, many between ages 12 and 14, often being touched by Vahey.
Doll confronted Vahey, who told her, according to an FBI affidavit, that he had given the boys sleeping pills, adding: "I was molested as a boy, that is why I do this. I have been doing this my whole life."
Doll demanded Vahey's resignation, according to the affidavit, and notified authorities at the U.S. Embassy the next day, U.S. officials said. Embassy officials immediately notified Nicaraguan police, but Vahey had already flown out of the country.
He travelled to Luverne, Minnesota, where relatives live. He checked into a hotel and stabbed himself in the chest with a knife, leaving a note apologizing to his family.
Associated Press writer Michael Weissenstein reported this story from Mexico City and Tami Abdollah reported from Los Angeles.
Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein
Tami Abdollah on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/latams
FBI contact for potential victims: http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/victim_assistance/seeking-victim-information/seeking-victims-in-william-james-vahey-case
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