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Nebraska teacher arrested in Mexico

His illegal immigrant status may block the boy's return to the U.S.

Associated Press
Published November 4, 2007


LEXINGTON, Neb. - A teacher accused of running away with a 13-year-old student planned a romantic life with him in his native Mexico, but she was near broke when they were captured there, authorities said Saturday.

Their border crossing during a week on the lam may mean the teen, an illegal immigrant, will not be able to come back to the rural Nebraska town where he was an eighth-grader.

The boy's relatives told police he had called home asking for money, leading investigators to a shopping mall in the border city of Mexicali on Friday. Kelsey Peterson, 25, and Fernando Rodriguez, 13, were taken into custody in the parking lot.

Peterson, a sixth-grade math teacher and basketball coach at Lexington Middle School, fled with the boy after police began investigating whether the pair had an intimate relationship, authorities said. The boy was last seen Oct. 26.

An international hunt was under way after Peterson's car was spotted crossing into Mexico on Tuesday. "They didn't have a very well-defined plan, it was basically to continue driving into Mexico to hide," said Alfredo Arenas, the Baja California state police official who detained Peterson. "This was a mutual agreement to flee after the story came out that they were having sex."

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

Peterson was turned over to the FBI early Saturday. The boy was turned over to relatives in Mexicali because he was an illegal immigrant in the United States and was not allowed to return, Arenas said.

Fernando's uncle, Pedro Raya, said he spoke to the boy Saturday and they agreed he would go to the family's rural hometown in the southern state of Guanajuato, mainly because of his immigration status.

"I just told him to stay over there in Mexico and the FBI is going to take care of everything," said Raya, 47, of Yuma, Ariz.

Fernando was an eighth-grader at Lexington Middle School, but district superintendent Todd Chessmore said Rodriguez had been in Peterson's sixth-grade math class.