He was one of the most beloved teachers in the small world of international schools that serve the children of diplomats, well-off American expatriates and local elites. He was often the first to arrive in the morning, and the last to leave each day. He led students on class trips to exotic places, treating them to cookies and milk at bedtime.
That was the public persona of William Vahey, carefully crafted over four decades until a maid cleaning his home in Nicaragua stole a 16-gigabyte memory drive. There, in photograph after photograph, was evidence that the model teacher had molested scores of adolescent boys, possibly more, in a career spanning 10 schools on four continents.
The discovery of a man the FBI regards as one of the most prolific pedophiles in memory has set off a crisis in the close-knit community of international schools, where horrified parents are being told their children may have been victims of a favorite teacher, and administrators are scurrying to close teacher-vetting loopholes revealed by Vahey's abuses.
"With the sheer volume, the sheer number of incidents in which this man molested, it surprises me that somehow this was not picked up by someone," said John Magagna, the founding director of Search Associates, the world's largest international school recruiting firm. "I don't know what went wrong."
Apparently not even Vahey's victims knew they had been molested. The double-cream Oreos that he handed out at bedtime on the overnight trips were laced with sleeping pills — enough to leave the boys unconscious as he touched them, and posed them for lewd photographs.
Vahey, a 64-year-old native of West Point, New York, attempted suicide in Nicaragua after his maid stole the drive. He survived, but killed himself on a second try, stabbing himself to death in Minnesota on March 21 and leaving hundreds of former students wondering if they were abused.