Hilton Head educator who knew him 'shocked' to learn Vahey molested children

loberle@beaufortgazette.comApril 28, 2014 

  • Have information?

    If you have information about William James Vahey or believe you may have been victimized by him, please complete an FBI questionnaire or email hovictimassistance@ic.fbi.gov. You can also contact the Hilton Head Island FBI office at 25 Clarks Summit Drive, Bluffton: (843) 815-2180.

    All inquiries will be kept confidential.

Before reading the newspaper last Wednesday, Peter Cooper remembered William Vahey as a dedicated teacher, and loving husband and father.

So the Hilton Head Preparatory School headmaster was shaken to learn the man with whom he had shared meals on Hilton Head Island admitted to molesting boys his entire life.

"Words cannot describe how shocked I am," Cooper said. "There was absolutely no indication at any time that this other side of him existed."

Vahey, a part-time Hilton Head resident, was fired March 12 from the American Nicaragua School in Managua after the discovery of a USB flash drive containing pornographic images of boys. The photos included at least 90 victims, and more have come forward, FBI spokeswoman Shauna Dunlap said Friday.

Nine days after his dismissal, Vahey, 64, was found dead in a Luverne, Minn., hotel room of a self-inflicted knife wound in the chest.

As the FBI continues investigating what Dunlap called "one of the most prolific alleged predators we've ever seen," Cooper gave more details about Vahey's time spent on Hilton Head.

In a brief phone interview Monday, Cooper said he met William and Jean Vahey through their professions sometime in the mid-1990s. After meeting, Cooper said they often dined together on Hilton Head two or three times during the summer. Cooper couldn't remember when he last spoke to Vahey, but said it was probably last summer when he and his wife were on the island.

Though they never worked together, Cooper, like Jean Vahey, worked for many years as an administrator at overseas schools. Before becoming the headmaster of Hilton Head Preparatory in 2012, Cooper spent nearly 30 years at American international schools in Japan, Colombia, Brazil and France.

Since 2009, Jean Vahey has served as executive director of the London-based European Council of International Schools, though she went on "compassionate leave," after her husband's death, according to the council's website.

William Vahey had taught at 10 such schools since 1972.

Cooper said he often ran into Jean Vahey at conferences throughout the school year.

The Vaheys maintained two residences -- one in London and one at 8 Green Wing Teal Road in Sea Pines, which they acquired in 2008, according to Beaufort County tax records. The Vaheys acquired their first Hilton Head home in 1986, according to Beaufort County deed records.

Cooper is unsure why the Vaheys initially choose Hilton Head as their American home.

"I know they enjoyed their time here during the summers," Cooper said. "For a while they had a Zodiac boat they used to take out into the Calibogue Sound to see the dolphins."

Cooper said he knew the Vaheys' two sons as well, and that they visited their parents on Hilton Head.

"I knew both of them. Once they got out of college, I didn't see them as often," Cooper said. "They didn't live here, but would come down during the normal summer holiday."

Cooper said William Vahey never inquired about a teaching position at Hilton Head Preparatory. There is no record of William Vahey applying for a position in the Beaufort County School District, according to spokesman Jim Foster.

Cooper would not comment on whether he attended a memorial service for Vahey.

Follow reporter Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.

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