Mary Kay Letourneau’s relationship with her former student Vili Fualaau “completely mimicked” her father’s relationship with one of his students “in a lot of ways,” her childhood friend Michelle Lobdell tells In Touch exclusively. 

“[Mary Kay was like her father] in almost every way, except for the fact that she did not choose to turn an adult into the object of her affection,” Michelle says ahead of the premiere of ID’s Mary Kay LeTourneau: Notes on a Scandal. “She chose to turn a child into it.”

“She had idolized her father and so to see her father fall so much … She also excused her father’s behavior on her mother being so cold,” Michelle continues. “So, of course, he ran to the arms of another woman, and you know, she justified it in her mind, very similar to the way she justified her affair with Villi.”

Michelle goes on to say that whatever his student “was providing” her father, “Villi was not capable of providing to Mary Kay.”

“Obviously a 12-year-old isn’t capable of the depth and meaning of an adult relationship,” Michelle adds of Mary Kay’s relationship with the then-child. “So, I do believe with my whole heart and my whole mind that she projected onto Villi, who she wanted him to be, or not even wanted, who she needed him to be, to [fill] a huge, gaping hole in her life.”

Mary Kay’s father, John Schmitz, was a member of the United States House of Representatives and California State Senate from Orange County, California, before becoming a candidate for the presidency in 1972. However, his political career was halted in 1982 after it was revealed that John had fathered two children with one of his former college students while married to Mary Kay’s mother, Mary Suehr

Fifteen years after her father’s scandal broke, the former schoolteacher entered into a sexual relationship with a then-12-year-old Vili. She was arrested in March 1997 after a relative of her first husband, Steve Letourneau, contacted the police. Mary Kay was pregnant with her and Vili’s first child at the time.

She ultimately pleaded guilty to two counts of felony second-degree rape of a child and gave birth to daughter Audrey Lokelani Fualaau that August, while awaiting sentencing. Mary Kay was sentenced to six months in prison as part of a plea deal, three of which were suspended. 

However, after breaking her plea deal, she was arrested again just one month after her release and was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for violating the no-contact order.

Mary Kay gave birth to the couple’s second daughter, Georgia Fualaau, in October 1998, while behind bars. 

Letourneau and Fualaau ultimately tied the knot in May 2005. Following the pair’s 2019 split, however, Vili opened up to Dr. Oz

“I couldn’t look at a 13-year-old and be attracted to that because it’s just not in my brain,” he said during a September 2020 appearance on The Dr. Oz Show. “It’s nothing that I’m attracted to. I mean, we all have our preferences, and that’s just not something that I would go towards.”

While Vili has since understood the toxicity of his relationship with his elementary school teacher, Michelle acknowledges that it “wasn’t a love story at all.”

“It was a tragic fantasy of a woman who was broken and unloved trying to find the love and fulfillment that she had never had in her life,” she says. “With all of her relationships over the years and her marriage to Steve, which was incredibly hollow, she was trying to find something that she didn’t have. And she, as the song says, was looking for love and all the wrong places.”

Mary Kay LeTourneau died after a battle with colorectal cancer in July 2020. She was 58.

A rep for Vili did not immediately respond to In Touch‘s request for comment.

Mary Kay LeTourneau: Notes on a Scandal premieres Sunday, August 28 at 9/8c on ID & available to stream the same day on Discovery+.

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