"Runaway Teacher" Faces Court Date

This photo from Nov. 2006 shows missing Kelsey Peterson, 25, a sixth-grade middle school teacher and basketball coach at Lexington Middle School, who was placed on administrative leave last week on suspicion of having a relationship with a 13-year-old boy student at the school. The two are believed to be on the run after police began investigating an alleged intimate relationship between the pair.
A middle school teacher accused of running away to Mexico with a 13-year-old boy when rumors started to swirl that they were having sex was due in court Monday to begin facing charges, three days after the pair was found.

Kelsey Peterson, 25, and Fernando Rodriguez, the subjects of a weeklong search, were taken into custody Friday without incident in Mexicali, Mexico, after the boy's relatives told police he had called home asking for money.

Peterson, a sixth-grade math teacher and basketball coach at Lexington Middle School, was turned over to FBI agents early Saturday. She was being held on federal charges at the Imperial County Jail in El Centro, Calif., and was scheduled to appear before a U.S. magistrate judge.

Authorities in Mexico said Fernando told police of vague but romantic plans with Peterson to scrap normal teenage life for a life of hiding in southern or central Mexico. Investigators have said they have recovered e-mails and letters in which they both express affection.

"The judge will advise Ms. Peterson of the charge (allegation) against her and her specific rights," FBI Special Agent Darrell Foxworth in San Diego said in a statement Sunday. He said there was no immediate indication if she had a lawyer to comment for her.

Peterson is charged in Nebraska with kidnapping, child abuse and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. She also faces federal charges of transporting a minor across state lines or a foreign border for sexual activity, U.S. Attorney Joe Stecher said.

A boy who identified himself as Fernando when an Omaha World-Herald reporter contacted him Sunday on his cell phone denied having a sexual relationship with Peterson.

"I don't know, I just like being around her," Fernando said. "She's just cool."

The newspaper reports Peterson and Rodriguez left Nebraska a day after the Lexington school district placed her on administrative leave and confiscated her computer. School officials had received a complaint alleging a sexual relationship between Peterson and a student.

Stecher said he would work with Dawson County Attorney Elizabeth Waterman to decide in which jurisdiction she would face charges.

Fernando was turned over to relatives in Mexico. He was an illegal immigrant while residing in the United States, and might not be able to return to the rural Nebraska town between North Platte and Kearney on Interstate 80, where he was an eighth-grader.

The news media generally do not identify people who may be victims of sex crimes, but the boy's name had been widely publicized as police searched for him.

Fernando said he is staying with his uncle now, but wants to return to his parents and the U.S.

Fernando's family agreed with authorities to send him to the family's home town in Mexico's southern state of Guanajuato to be near his grandmother, uncles and father, said one uncle, Pedro Raya.

"They think that's the best thing they can do for Fernando," said Raya, 47, of Yuma, Ariz. "They're probably not going to be able to (visit) because of the status, because of the family's status."

A seventh-grader at Lexington Middle School, Gage Timson, said he knew Fernando through friends and hung out with him a couple of times. He also described Peterson as "kinda cool sometimes" - although she could be strict when kids got in trouble.

"I thought that she kidnapped him, but there's rumors all over, and I don't know which ones are true," said Gage, 12, as he took a break from skateboarding in a park across the street from Lexington High School.

Alfredo Arenas, the Baja California state police official who detained Peterson, said the pair had a mutual agreement to flee after stories surfaced that they were having sex surfaced.

Peterson's family and co-workers tell the World-Herald they had warned her several times that her relationship with the boy was inappropriate. She has been teaching at the school for four years, and is a 2000 graduate of Lexington High School. She was described as a popular and smart kid, but she had a child out of wedlock her junior year in high school.