Miami Herald | By David Ovalle | October 19, 2021
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, Brittney 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 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 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.