Authorities may have missed a warning sign when two students under Vahey’s care were rushed to a hospital after falling unconscious in their hotel room during a trip for a basketball game, parents and staff said. Officials were unable to determine why and chalked it up to a possible failing air conditioner.
Seven years later, the Vaheys went to work at the Westminster campus of London’s Southbank International School, with about 350 pupils from 70 countries.
Bill Vahey founded a “travel club” and led a 13-day trip to Nepal in 2012.
Southbank’s chair of governors, Chris Woodhead, told Britain’s Press Association there had been one complaint against Vahey. A boy on a trip felt sick, Woodhead said, and Vahey took the child into his room, apparently “to look after him.”
“The boy’s parents agreed that there was nothing untoward and the matter shouldn’t be pursued,” Woodhead said.
When Vahey went on to the American Nicaraguan School with glowing references, his wife stayed in London.
In early March, the maid handed the USB drive to school director Gloria Doll. On it, she found photos of unconscious boys, many blonde or red-headed and between the ages of 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.”
Vahey said he had swallowed more than 100 sleeping pills in November after discovering the USB drive had been taken.
Doll demanded Vahey’s resignation, according to the affidavit.
Vahey flew to Atlanta the next day. It was only after he boarded the flight that Doll notified authorities at the U.S. Embassy in Managua, U.S. officials said. U.S. officials immediately notified Nicaraguan police, but he had left the country.
Vahey traveled to Luverne, Minnesota, where his brother, sister-in-law and mother live, the latter in a nursing home. He checked into a hotel and stabbed himself in the chest with a knife, leaving a note apologizing to his family.
“He’s one of the most prolific pedophiles that we’ve seen here due to the sheer numbers,” FBI Special Agent Sharon Dunlap said.
At least 60 of the 90 or so children in the images were from the Southbank school, according to police, and a significant number of parents said they did not want to know if their children were abused. Woodhead, the governor, has blamed the U.S. system.
“How did he qualify as a teacher in the United States, how is it this information was never available to any of the schools across the world who employed him over the next 40 years?” he asked in an interview with the Press Association.