A few hours before daybreak on an August 2000 night, a Montgomery County police officer saw a grown woman and a 12-year-old boy dash away from his cruiser at a Wheaton park, apparently trying to hide from him.
He stopped them, and the woman -- Catherine Peay, then a 37-year-old English teacher at a local middle school -- told him the boy was her godson, she was tutoring him and he didn't want to go home.
"Obviously, something was up," said Detective Don Inman, who later investigated the case. "She was disheveled. She stunk. . . . She was living out of her car."
The boy, Carlos Andres Perez, told police he and his teacher had been naked and kissing in the park. The woman later admitted to Inman that she and Carlos had intercourse several times, according to police charging documents.
That dawn marked the end of an intense, weeks-long affair, a teaching career and, according to the boy's mother, Carlos's life.
The teacher was charged with rape, among other counts. She pleaded guilty to child abuse and second-degree sex offense, and served three years behind bars. Carlos died in 2001 after failing to take medication for seizures. His mother says she believes he committed suicide.
Now, the teacher -- who goes by her maiden name, Turner -- has filed for divorce and is seeking custody of two of her sons.
Turner made the filing last week in Prince George's County, where she lives. She has asked a judge to grant her custody of the younger two of her three sons. The oldest is 18.
She declined to be interviewed for this story. "I've moved on," Turner said.
A judge told her last week that she would have to pursue her custody petition in New York City because the boys have lived there for nearly three years. The boys' father, Randy Peay, who lives in Queens with the boys, ages 16 and 14, is outraged by her legal action.
"I've fought very hard for these boys to be where they are now," Peay, 50, said. "They're in school, they're playing ball, they're healthy kids. These are good boys."
The prospect that Turner might win custody also disturbs Carlos's mother, Ena Cubillos, 45, who this year won a $1.7 million judgment against Turner in a civil lawsuit in which Cubillos charged battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, deprivation of civil rights and deprivation of personal security, physical integrity and privacy. Turner did not defend herself in the case and lost by default.
The Montgomery County school board also was a defendant in the suit. Cubillos argued that school officials ignored the concerns of another parent at Sligo Middle School who in the spring of 2000 told them that Turner was calling her son late at night and giving him rides without her permission.
A jury found that the Silver Spring school breached its duty to Carlos and his mother but stopped short of holding the school board financially liable for the breach of trust.
Brian Edwards, a spokesman for the school board, declined to comment.
Cubillos hasn't seen a penny of the $1.7 million that Turner was supposed to pay.
"How is she going to get her kids now that she's taken mine?" Cubillos asked. "If she gets her kids, there is no justice."
Carlos's downfall began the summer of 2000, his mother said. The boy, a Colombian immigrant who had been living in Maryland for five years, was enrolled in Turner's summer school class at Sligo to help with his difficulties with learning English.
Turner called Cubillos the week classes started.
"Carlos is a very sweet boy, but he's a little slow and easily distracted," Cubillos said Turner told her.
Turner said she was the kind of teacher who liked to meet her students' families. If it was all right with Cubillos, Turner said, she'd like to go to their home after school to help Carlos with his homework.
"I was surprised," Cubillos said. "I thought it was fabulous. In our countries we have more contact with teachers than one does here."
But Turner's teaching style struck Cubillos as bizarre. She and the boy would spend hours laughing, and she indulged him in wrestling matches, one of his favorite pastimes, Cubillos said. Turner routinely drove Carlos between school and home and often asked for permission to keep him after school.
Soon, Turner's sons began calling Cubillos, at home and at work, almost obsessively, asking her to let Carlos go to their house to play video games. Carlos often went there to play, but Cubillos became annoyed by the boys' relentless calls.
Turner then called Cubillos and asked whether she could accompany the family to church on Sundays.
Leery as she may have been of Turner, Cubillos said she was dumbfounded by what police told her the morning of Aug. 11, 2000, after the incident at Wheaton Forest Local Park. A detective called to tell her that Carlos was at a police station and asked what the family knew about Catherine Peay.
Detectives learned that Carlos, prodded by Turner, had been sneaking out of his home virtually every night to spend time with his teacher. Turner, who at the time was recently separated, had alienated loved ones with what her husband described as erratic behavior.
"She was down-spiraling, had money problems, issues with her husband," said Inman, the detective. "But she had control over this kid -- probably the only thing she could control in her life."
In November 2000, Turner pleaded guilty to child abuse and second-degree sex offense, admitting to a sexual relationship with the boy. She was imprisoned until Nov. 19, 2003.
During her sentencing hearing in January 2001, she pleaded for leniency.
"At that particular time I was going through some things," she said, according to a recording of the hearing. "I did not look at Carlos as a 12-year-old, a child I'm lusting after. That's not my nature.
"At that particular time there was a need. I was vulnerable. It could have been a 20-year-old, a 30-year-old, 40-year-old, a 90-year-old. I was not out to get or seduce or abuse a minor."
Shortly after Turner's arrest, Carlos, once an effusive and loving boy, became irate and unmanageable, his mother said. He recoiled at the slightest show of affection, spent hours crying and began having intense, unpredictable seizures. His health problems were long-standing, but his mother said they worsened after the relationship with Turner.
Friends turned their backs on him and kids at school mockingly called him "Mr. Peay," Inman said. Classmates' parents asked Carlos never to call their homes again. The father of a female friend slammed a door in his face.
"They said he was a dangerous boy," Cubillos said. "I fought with several parents. I told them that he was not at fault. He was the victim."
Carlos left Sligo and passed through two schools in the county before being suspended in early February 2001 after he tried to choke himself with venetian blinds on campus, his mother said. Later that month, he called his psychiatrist, Joan Kinlan, and told her he had knives that he was thinking of using to hurt himself, according to a deposition filed in the civil case.
"He told me he was taking a knife and he was starting to cut his face," Kinlan said in the deposition.
Kinlan tried to calm him. She called Cubillos and police while keeping Carlos on the phone. He was hospitalized for about a month shortly after that incident, in which he wasn't seriously hurt.
His behavior deteriorated from there, Cubillos said. Doctors increased his daily dosage of Tegretol, a drug prescribed to people who suffer from seizures, from 400 to 1,200 milligrams.
Carlos returned home the next month. He said he wanted to stop taking his medicine because "he wanted God to cure him," his mother said. Cubillos, who had been giving Carlos Tegretol since he was 2, gave him the pill every day at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., always watching him pop it in his mouth.
The morning of March 26, 2001, she walked into Carlos's room. The night before, he had had a seizure in bed, and she wanted to make sure he was all right. His body was lukewarm. His hands were cold. Paramedics who responded to the scene found him dead. Carlos, an autopsy later revealed, had stopped taking his medication days before. His mother said she believes he was pretending to take the pills, hiding them in his cheek and later spitting them out.
The case haunts Inman, a veteran investigator of sex crimes, who is retiring this month.
Cubillos, who lives in the Baltimore suburbs, blames the school system for failing to intervene earlier. She blames Turner for seducing her child. And she blames herself.
"I always end up questioning whether I failed as a mother," she said. "I should have had other instincts."