The mother of a 16-year-old boy police say was in the company of a 42-year-old Texas school teacher when he went missing from his Barrie, Ont., home said Wednesday her son is suffering from a broken heart.
Lauri Price remained behind bars in Houston after authorities accused her of flying to Canada and luring away the boy, with whom she allegedly had an online sexual relationship for more than a year.
The boy’s mother says her son is devastated, having believed he was in love with the woman he had met on the Internet.
“(My son) believed he was in love, or believes he is in love,” said the boy’s mother, her voice weary and raw as she described the delicate state her son is in.
“He’s devastated. He really, really is. He feels responsible, even guilty.”
The boy has been “assured by family and professionals that this is not his fault,” she added. “This is someone much older than him, and it’s an adult who has manipulated him into these feelings.”
Price, a mother of four and a substitute teacher who was working on contract at a school, has been charged in Houston with two counts of online solicitation of a minor and one count of enticing a child with the intent to commit a felony.
She is being held in the Harris County Jail near Houston under bonds totalling $20,000.
Price’s lawyer, Skip Cornelius, said he expected his client would be free on bond by Thursday.
U.S. authorities allege the teenager met Price on the Internet three years ago while playing the online fantasy game “World of Warcraft.”
Police say that after going to the teen’s home in February and failing to lure the boy away, Price continued her relationship with him.
“She talked to him about sex and a lot of different stuff. It was a very long, long grooming process,” said Lt. Matthew Gray, from the Houston Metro Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce.
“She thought that in February she had him at that time. She continued to work on him until she finally felt she broke through.”
Police say on Dec. 29, Price flew back to Canada and convinced the teen to leave his home, taking him to a hotel.
Authorities allege the woman had sex with the boy.
News reports on New Year’s Eve captured tearful pleas from the boy’s mother, begging for her son to return home as she showed a goodbye letter he had left for his parents.
Sgt. Robert Allan of the Barrie police said the boy’s mother had been aware of the relationship and had forbidden her son to meet Price.
After several tips from the public the boy and Price were eventually found in Orillia, Ont., Allan said.
Barrie police said Price would not face charges in Canada because the age of sexual consent in Canada is 16. In Texas, the age of consent is 17.
“Although morally we took issue with the instance, criminally she did nothing wrong,” said Allan, adding that Price had co-operated with Barrie investigators.
Eric Devlin, a prosecutor in the Harris County district attorney’s office, said the boy’s mom was convinced that the relationship would continue.
“This defendant continued to have conversations with the mom. She expressed that the relationship was not over,” said Devlin.
“While she (Price) was here, he was 14, 15, and 16 communicating with her online. She’s here in Houston communicating in an explicitly sexual manner with a minor and in Texas that’s illegal,” said Devlin.
“So while, yes, she did have sex with him in Canada, she’s not charged with a sexual assault.”
Devlin alleges Price enticed the boy from his parents by coaching him and even dictating the note he would leave to his parents.
If convicted, Price could face a maximum of 10 years in prison for each charge. Authorities are also considering charges under federal laws relating to sex tourism.
“She’s chatted with this kid hundreds of times,” said Devlin. “I can charge her for every sexual chat that they have had, so she could face even more (time) than that.”
The boy’s mother said she is relieved Price has been charged but feels sorry for Price’s relatives, who she described as a good Christian family.
“My heart goes out to her children, because they’ve not asked to be put in this position and they’re really victims as well,” said the boy’s mother.
Price will be back in court Feb. 4.