Such leniency was common at the time, said Dan Scott, a retired detective sergeant who worked for 26 years with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department office that investigates child abuse. "Nobody went after sex offenders."
Vahey was required to register as a sex offender and update his address whenever he moved, but he never updated his information after the first time he registered, and authorities didn't pursue the matter. When the state registry was put online in 2004, his name wasn't included because authorities discovered he was no longer living in California.
Vahey began his international teaching career with a year at the American School in Tehran in the run-up to Iran's oil boom, the first in a series of stays around the Middle East and Europe. He taught history, social studies and related subjects in Lebanon, Spain, Iran again, Greece and then Saudi Arabia, almost always to middle school students.
By the time he arrived in Saudi Arabia, Vahey was married and had two sons with Jean Vahey, a woman who became a widely respected administrator in international education. He taught eighth- and ninth-grade social studies, coached boys' basketball and led school trips to Bahrain, Turkey and Africa.
Halfway through his 12-year stay in Saudi Arabia, he received a principal's certificate in New Jersey. It was March 1986, seven months before a law took effect requiring all new teachers and administrators to undergo background checks. New Jersey Education Department spokesman Mike Yaple said there is no record of Vahey undergoing a check before he got the certificate.
In Saudi Arabia, Vahey displayed an openness and concern for children that people would remark upon for the rest of his career, said Max Crum, a 38-year-old former student.
"When you're a kid, and you have teachers who are stern and mean, you kind of fear them. He wasn't that at all," Crum said.