They looked the perfect family.
Married for 10 years and sat with their grown daughters, Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau smiled as they recounted their ‘extraordinary’ relationship, in a 2015 widely-watched exclusive with American TV titan Barbara Walters.
However, the couple’s relationship was extraordinary for all the wrong reasons.
They had become close when Vili was just 12, and Mary Kay, then in her thirties, was his teacher. Within months they had embarked on a sexual relationship.
As news of the Washington state-based sexual abuse scandal shocked the globe, people were left reeling at the thought that a 34-year-old, middle-class, married mother-of-four was capable of committing such a horrific crime.
Yet despite Mary Kay going to jail for second-degree child rape – and giving birth behind bars – the couple steadfastly refused to give up on their relationship.
Now the family – and their story – are back in the news again, after the couple’s youngest daughter, Georgia, has posted on Instagram about expecting a baby boy in January.
Vili, 40, who had a third daughter, Sophia, in 2022, is set to become a grandparent for the first time – but without Mary Kay by his side.
Rewind to September 1996. A 12-year-old Vili entered his sixth-grade classroom at Shorewood Elementary School in Washington, settling in for a year of learning. He recongised Mary Kay, as she had also taught him in second grade, when he was just eight.
‘There was a respect, an insight, a spirit, and understanding between us that grew over time,’ she told The Seattle Times in July 1997, as she recalled that first time teaching him. ‘It was the kind of feeling you have with a brother or sister – a feeling that they’re part of your life forever.’
As she once again tutored Vili four years later, Mary Kay clocked that the boy was a gifted artist, and began spending time with him outside of the classroom to develop his skills. Vili even visited her home, becoming friendly with Mary Kay’s husband Steve and four children. He became especially close with her eldest son, Steven Jr., who was only a year younger than him.
When the school year ended, the teacher and student had gone to dinner when the pair first had sex, even though in a book the pair authored, Mary Kay wrote she had ‘promised’ herself ‘it’ wouldn’t happen before her divorce with then-husband Steve.
‘The incident was late at night, and it didn’t stop with a kiss,’ Mary Kay told Walters in the 2015 interview. ‘And I thought that it would, and it didn’t.’
That same summer, police discovered Vili and Mary Kay in a minvan. Vili quickly lied to the police, saying he was 18. Although taken to the police station, they both were released after claiming there was no improper conduct.
Mary Kay later described their connection as a ‘million moments that just kept building something very beautiful and scary at the same time’ in a 2004 interview with Laury King.
In the autumn of 1996, Mary Kay found out she was pregnant with the schoolboy’s baby.
Mary Kay broke the news of her pregnancy to her best friend, Michelle Lobdell on the phone. ‘I have some news and this is difficult,’ she told her friend. ‘I’m pregnant and it’s not Steve’s.’
Lobdell said in an interview with the New York Post that it ‘was a shocking moment’ and that Mary Kay made it out that the father was a college-aged student. ‘She didn’t tell me he was 12.’
Steve Letourneau, Mary Kay’s then-husband was rifling through papers in early 1997 when he found love letters between his wife and her student. Confronting the teenager over them, he threatened to tell Vili’s family about their sordid relationship if he didn’t end it.
‘The fear of my mom’s reaction and the thought of everyone being affected by it was one of my biggest fears, so I said, for the better of everyone, OK. It was kind of devastating,’ recalled Vili in a 2018 interview.
However, it was too late, as just a few weeks later on 4 March, Mary Kay was arrested for second-degree child rape after a tip from a relative of Steve’s.
She was released on bail and went on to have her daughter Audrey in May 1997.
At her trial three months after the birth, Mary Kay pled guilty to child rape in exchange for a three-month jail sentence and probation.
‘It was wrong, and I am sorry,’ she said in the hearing. ‘I give you my word it will not happen again.’
Her request was approved, with the condition Mary Kay had no further contact with Vili, who always claimed that the relationship was consensual and continuously maintained he wasn’t a victim. ‘I’m not ashamed of being in love with Mary Kay,’ he told Inside Edition in 1999.
But her vow to leave the teen alone was shortlived, when Mary Kay and Vili were found again in a car soon after her release – this time with over $6,000 in cash, baby clothes, and her passport, leading authorities to believe they were planning to leave the country.
Mary Kay was brought back to court, by then pregnant for a second time with Vili’s baby from her brief stint out of prison, for her breach of parole and told by the judge she had been given an opportunity that she ‘foolishly squandered.’
She was sentenced to seven and a half years in Washington Correction Centre for Women, during which time she would give birth to her youngest daughter behind bars and get a divorce from her husband.
Both daughters were in the custody of Vili’s mother, Soona, while Mary Kay finished her sentence.
Even though Soona blamed Mary Kay for ruining her son’s life, she tearfully said when testifying in the 2002 case that she couldn’t hate the former teacher.
‘What happened was morally wrong,’ she told the court. ‘She was married, and this was a teenage boy. I’ve lost my son. I lost my sweet little boy who could draw. I knew he would grow up, and he wouldn’t be my little boy, but I didn’t know I’d lose him at 12.’
‘I can’t say I hate Mary,’ she continued. ‘Just a couple of weeks ago, my granddaughter turned around to me and asked, “Do you love my Mary mommy grandma?” And I’m supposed to tell her yeah.’
While Mary Kay was in prison, Vili talked openly in his Walters interview about how he went ‘through a really dark time,’ battling depression for years in the wake of Mary Kay’s imprisonment.
‘I’m surprised I’m still alive today,’ he said in the exclusive chat. ‘My friends couldn’t help me because they had no idea what it was like to be a parent, I mean, because we were all 14, 15.’
In August 2004, Mary Kay was released from prison and Vili filed a motion in court requesting a reversal of the no-contact order against Mary Kay.
It was granted, and 10 months later, they were married in a lavish ceremony with 250 friends and family at a winery in Washington. Vili was 21 years old.
For 10 years, the couple lived together in Seattle – Vili working as a DJ and Mary Kay as a legal assistant – while raising their two girls.
But in 2017, Vili filed for a legal separation, supposedly due to his desire to start a marijuana business.
‘It’s not necessarily what you think,’ he told Radar Online. ‘When you want to get licensed, they do background checks on both parties. If I decide to be a part of it, I have to be licensed, and I have to be vetted, and so does a spouse. She has a past. She has a history.’
However, a source close to Mary Kay told People magazine a different story, about how the couple had multiple discussions over where things were going.
‘She really tried everything she could think of, but she just wasn’t able to work it out,’ the source said. ‘She loves him, she knows he loves her, but it really seems like it has run its course.’
Although the couple eventually divorced in 2019, Mary Kay would end up spending her last weeks with her ex-husband after she was diagnosed with colon cancer and ‘reached out’ to him via text in 2020.
‘Vili, to his credit, when he found out about [her illness], and then especially the last couple of months, he moved back from California and he gave her 24/7 care, literally all the way to the end,’ said David Gehrke, who represented Letourneau throughout her trial, in an interview with KIRO radio.
In July 2020, Mary Kay passed away, but in the lead up to her death, she had allegedly penned dozens of letters to atone for her actions.
‘The bottom line was that she understood on a very deep level that she had really made a mess of her life and the lives of many other people back in 1996,’ one friend told People.
‘She realised that even though things turned out relatively good, that she was responsible for a wide swath of destruction by her actions.’
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