MIAMI — When the 14-year-old boy’s mother and stepfather learned that he’d been lured into an illegal sexual relationship, the identity of the suspected abuser stunned them.
At 31, Brittiny Lopez-Murray was nearly two decades their son’s senior. She had been his drama teacher at Hialeah Middle. Her husband coached his basketball team, the parents told the Miami Herald.
And she was eight months pregnant.
The illegal relationship started well after Lopez-Murray became pregnant, the boy’s parents said in an interview. When they were told about the abuse earlier this month, they called Lopez-Murray to confront her. On speaker phone, they recalled, she at first denied the allegations — then relented.
“She had the audacity to tell us, ‘Please don’t say anything. Please don’t call the cops. I promise I won’t do it again,’” the boy’s stepfather recalled.
The anguished parents spoke to the Miami Herald nearly two weeks after Lopez-Murray was arrested and charged with a slew of felonies, the first of two pregnant Miami-Dade schools teachers arrested in separate sex abuse cases over the span of five days.
Their account adds more details to what has been a sordid month for South Florida educators — a third teacher, Daniel Fernandez, 35, of Renaissance Middle Charter School, was also charged with sexually assaulting a student, and the Miami-Dade public school district was ordered to pay $6 million to a former student sexually abused by a different teacher years ago.
Lopez-Murray and the other pregnant teacher, Heiry Calvi, 41, resigned as they faced firing by Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Renaissance has also fired Fernandez.
All three have pleaded not guilty in Miami-Dade circuit court. Two other former Miami-Dade teachers, Tom Privett and Jason Meyers, are also awaiting criminal trial on previous accusations they sexually abused underage female students.
Rookie Teacher of the Year
In Lopez-Murray’s case, she was a relatively new teacher — in 2017, she was named Hialeah Middle’s Rookie Teacher of the Year. Her husband, Troy Murray, had been a science teacher at Hialeah Middle and coached basketball at Westland Hialeah High. He has since been placed on an “alternate assignment” and is not at a school, a district spokeswoman said.
Lopez-Murray’s defense attorneys, Landon Ray and Jeff Chukwuma, declined to comment Monday afternoon because prosecutors have yet to provide them evidence in the case. Evidence in criminal cases — which can include witness statements, police reports and photos and videos — is generally provided to defense lawyers after arraignment. Lopez-Murray’s is scheduled for Nov. 3.
“She is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Ray told the Herald earlier this month. “We hope everyone is patient, doesn’t rush to judgment and respects the family’s privacy.”
The Herald does not name sexual abuse victims, and is not naming the boy’s parents so as not to identify him.
“She stole his childhood,” said the family’s attorney, Judd Rosen, who accused the school district of not doing enough to protect vulnerable students. “This kid deserved a normal teenage relationship. She stole that from him. She forced the issues. She raped him, under the law.”
In an interview, the parents described the victim as a normal kid who likes PlayStation and sports. As a 13-year-old at Hialeah Middle, he took Lopez-Murray’s class, and would often stay after school to rehearse.
“He was happy. He would say it was his favorite class,” his mother said
The boy also tried out for Westland’s basketball team, where Troy Murray coached. “He was really happy because he made the team and started going to practices and that’s how everything happened,” his mother said.
Lopez-Murray volunteered to give him rides to and from practice, the parents said.
As the school year began in August, police say, Lopez-Murray sent him a text in which “she expressed her feelings toward” him. They later met for coffee, and that led to multiple sex acts in her car on multiple dates, including in the parking lots of the Westland Mall and a Publix, he would later tell Hialeah police detectives.
Then on Oct. 2, his sister “became suspicious” of how guarded her brother was on his phone, according to a Hialeah police report.
She managed to get his phone and saw “explicit text messages and photos” between the teen and Lopez-Murray, police said. The boy’s biological father later looked through the phone and saw that the teacher had sent the boy photos of her “exposed breasts and vagina,” the police report said. Text messages between the two detailed “how much they enjoyed the sex with each other,” according to the report.
His biological father called the boy’s mom and stepfather, who were in the Florida Keys for the weekend. They hurriedly drove to Miami, the mother sobbing, the stepfather angry. “It was an awful drive back,” he said.
As they drove, they dialed Lopez-Murray. The stepfather said he was incredulous when she begged him to not go to police.
“I’m like, I’m not going to give you the opportunity to do this to another family, to another child,” the stepfather recalled.
When Hialeah detectives arrested Lopez-Murray on Oct. 4, she invoked her right to remain silent and did not speak to police. She’s facing an array of felonies, including lewd and lascivious battery on a child, molestation of a child and sending harmful electronic transmissions to a child.
The teen has since transferred schools, but remains downcast, the family said.
“It’s very hard for us. We’re scared for him to go on social media and see what people are saying about his situation,” the stepfather said. “It’s hard for him be a regular 14-year-old communicating with people, like on PlayStation. We want him to be a regular kid. We’re afraid my son is going to be 15-16 years old and get a girlfriend who finds out that he was raped by a teacher. It’s hard to see him having regular teenage years.”
The Doral teacher
In the Calvi case, she was a teacher at John I. Smith K-8 in Doral. She is married and pregnant with her husband’s child, according to her defense attorney.
“Ms. Calvi is a happily married woman, and a dedicated teacher of over 21 years, who adamantly denies having any sort of inappropriate relationship with any student,” said her defense lawyer, Orlando Rodriguez. “She and her husband are expecting a beautiful baby girl within the next few months.”
According to police, the investigation began in March when staff members reported to police that several students said a 15-year-old boy was showing off a cellphone video of him having sex with an adult woman. “The students reported the female in the video as Mrs. Calvi,” according to one police report.
The boy initially told Doral police that she was simply his tutor and nothing more, police said.
But his parents agreed to turn his iPhone over to police investigators, who ran a forensic analysis and discovered a slew of evidence, according to arrest reports. Among them: an audio recording the teen sent to a friend instructing the person to lie to police about the relationship, messages between him and Calvi “in which they each state to one another I love you” and screenshots that appear to show Calvi was paying for his Uber rides and Uber Eats meals.
When confronted by police, the teen acknowledged “that they had sex, and reiterated he is not a victim [and] she never raped him,” according to a police report.
Investigators also found a photo believed to be the teen — wearing a distinct “Thug” pendant — and a topless woman believed to be Calvi, one report said. She later identified herself in the photo, Doral police said.
Calvi is charged with a host of felonies, including lewd and lascivious battery, sending harmful electronic transmissions to minors and an offense against students by an authority figure. Her arraignment is scheduled for Nov. 8.
A Doral police spokesman, Rey Valdes, stressed to the Herald that “a child does not have the legal authority to give consent even though the child may say ‘this is OK.’”
Still, her defense lawyer emphasized that prosecutors had yet to file formal charges. He criticized Doral and Miami-Dade schools police, which spearheaded the probe, saying the victim had been interrogated “dozens of times over the past several months.”
“Despite the immense pressure placed on him by experienced, well-trained police officers, he has been steadfast that there was no inappropriate relationship,” Rodriguez said. “In addition, the young man’s family does not believe these baseless allegations, and fully support Ms. Calvi during this difficult time.”
©2021 Miami Herald. Visit miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.