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Mary Kay Letourneau defended her relationship with her student for years. This week, she died aged 58.

Mary Kay Letourneau has died at the age of 58.

The controversial former teacher, who gained worldwide media attention for raping 12-year-old student Vili Fualaau and later marrying him, died of stage 4 cancer earlier this week.

Following the news, the Fualaau and Letourneau families have released a joint statement, sharing that they are "deeply saddened" by her death.

"Mary, and all of us, found great strength in having our immediate and extended family members together to join her in this arduous struggle. We did our very best to care for Mary and one another as we kept her close and stayed close together," the statement read.

"We are endlessly grateful for the care and kindness received from the amazing professionals involved in Mary's care. Likewise, the kindness and compassion of friends and others who learned of her condition along the way proved an uplifting gift to us all.

"It is in that spirit that we ask for privacy and respect for our desire to focus on the road ahead for all of us who make up Mary's collective family. We ask that our boundaries and need for privacy be honoured with continued kindness and understanding."

Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau's daughters opened up on Sunday Night in 2018. Post continues below.


Video via Channel Seven.

In 1996, Mary Kay Letourneau was living a life that looked relatively normal.

At the time, the 34-year-old middle school teacher was living in Washington with her husband Steve Letourneau and their four children, Jacqueline, Mary Claire, Nicholas and Steven Jr.

But when Letourneau's husband found letters she had written to her 12-year-old student, Vili Fualaau, Letourneau soon gained infamy.

Letourneau first met the boy when he was in second grade at Shorewood Elementary School in the Seattle suburb of Burien. 

Four years later, when Fualaau was just 12 or 13 years old, she began to rape him. The sixth-grade student was just one and a half years older than her eldest son.

"The incident was a late night that didn’t stop with a kiss," Letourneau told ABC of the first assault. "And I thought that it would and it didn’t."

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The abuse continued in secret for months, before the teacher was arrested in March 1997, after her husband found letters about the crime. 

By then, Letourneau was already pregnant with Fualaau's child. He was just 13.

Mary Kay Letourneau during the court hearing in 1998. Image: AAP. As the headlines circulated around the world, Letourneau gave birth on May 29, 1997, and three months later plead guilty to two counts of second-degree child rape.

Letourneau was handed a suspended sentence of 89 months in November 1997. She served six months in county jail before being released on parole under the condition she attended counselling and didn't contact Fualaau.

But within a matter of weeks of her release, she was found assaulting him in her car.

The parole violation saw her return to prison for the full seven and a half year sentence, where she gave birth to their second daughter behind bars on October 16, 1998. Both girls were placed into the custody of Fualaau's mother.

By the time she was released from prison in 2004, her husband had divorced her and got full custody of their four children. Fualaau, her former student and victim, was now 21 years old.

Following her release, Fualaau persuaded the court to reverse the no-contact order. 

On May 20, 2005, less than a year after the former teacher's release, the pair married in Woodinville, Washington.

In an interview with Sunday Night in 2018, the Fualaau family - including daughters 22-year-old Audrey and 21-year-old Georgia - opened up about their experience.

Listen to the latest episode of The Quicky, Mamamia's daily news podcast, below. Post continues after podcast.

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In the interview, Letourneau claimed that she didn't know what she'd done to Fualaau, then 12 years old, was illegal.

"If someone had told me, if anyone had told me there is a specific law that says this is a crime," she said. "…If you had someone on here that knew Mary back then, 'Did Mary know? Would Mary have known?'"

Letourneau's lawyer, David Gehrke, also told Sunday Night he had to explain to her multiple times that she had committed a crime.

Speaking to the former Channel Seven program, Gehrke said Letourneau told him: "But we’re in love, I didn’t make him do anything, if anything he was wanting it, he was pushing for it. We’re in love, how could it be a crime?"

The couple's daughters also shared that they have never questioned their unusual family dynamic.

"It doesn’t feel any different just because it’s not really brought to our attention," Audrey said. "Or just because we grew up with it, so we’re adapted to it."

On May 9, 2017, after almost 12 years of marriage, Fualaau filed for separation, but later withdrew the filing as they attempted to repair their relationship.

In 2018, a source told People"They know what everyone thinks about their relationship. And they don't care. They really never have. The wrong stuff that happened was so long ago. They are two grown adults who are living their lives now."

After attempting to reconcile their relationship, the couple divorced in August 2019.

According to Letourneau's lawyer, Fualaau spent the last two months by his ex-wife's side.

"Vili moved back from California, gave up his life there, and for the last two months of Mary’s life he stood by her 24/7 taking care of her," Gehrke said.

"So yes, they were divorced and they had their spats, but they were always in love with each other."

According to the lawyer, the 58-year-old was diagnosed with cancer just six or seven months ago.

"[Fualaau] knew that this was Mary’s end coming, fast moving, and for her sake and the family’s sake, and for his sake, he came back up and was with her, and it meant the world to her," Gehrke said.

"And I know it meant the world to Vili, as painful as it was."

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

Feature Image: YouTube/ABC's 20/20.

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