JANITZIO, Mexico – The 13-year-old who fled from Nebraska with a middle school teacher told The Associated Press their friendship led to sex and a rambling journey to nowhere that now has them both facing fates they never wanted.
The boy, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, might not ever be able to return to the U.S., the country he considers home. The 25-year-old teacher, Kelsey Peterson, is in a California jail on charges of crossing state lines with the intention of having sex with a minor.
Their trip began nearly two weeks ago in Lexington, Neb., about 200 miles west of Omaha, where the boy, now in eighth grade, left with his sixth-grade teacher. He watched movies on a DVD player while she drove west to California, then south to Mexico.
The boy said the trip was Peterson's idea, but he went along with it. He had told her he wanted to visit his birthplace in Penjamo, a town in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, where his father lives.
"I had problems in Lexington and I wanted to get away, but it was a bad idea," he said Tuesday. "Now I can't go back."
The boy said he had sex with the teacher while they were in Lexington, a meatpacking town that has seen a large influx of Mexican immigrants.
"It didn't happen that many times," he said. "It happened maybe twice, I think."
The boy spoke on the patio of a family friend's house in this small farming village south of the California state line. The family took him in after Mexican authorities found him and Peterson on Friday at a mall parking lot in the nearby border city of Mexicali.
The boy spoke flawless English; his Spanish is limited. He occasionally pulled a cell phone from his pocket.
The AP had previously named the boy but later removed his name because the most recent charges allege he was the victim of a sex crime.
The boy called his former teacher "my best friend" but said she wasn't his girlfriend.
"I could tell her anything," he said. "She would listen."
The Mexican official who captured the pair with the aid of a GPS-enabled cell phone said the boy shed no tears while Peterson wept as the two parted Friday night at the police station.
"She said to the youngster that she loved him and would always love him in her heart," said Alfredo Arenas Moreno of the Baja California state police.
Arenas said the woman admitted having a sexual relationship with the boy but felt it was unfair that she would be branded a predator and separated from her 8-year-old daughter.
"She said her life was basically over, but if she had a chance to do things differently she wouldn't," he told the AP.
Arenas said the boy had no money and no identification, but Peterson had $400. The trunk of the car was loaded with clothes, toiletries, blankets, pillows, bottled water, photos of Peterson's family and Disney DVDs.
"They basically didn't have a plan," he said. "They were living day to day."
The boy said they drove 1,300 miles to Riverside, Calif., outside Los Angeles, to see relatives but they couldn't find anyone because they had no phone numbers or addresses. He said they made a short trip to a beach, where he swam in the ocean.
"She wanted to see the beach, I guess, because she had never seen it," he said.
From there, they drove through San Diego to Tijuana, Mexico, then about 120 miles east to Mexicali, staying at hotels throughout the trip. A phone call by the pair to the boy's uncle in Yuma, Ariz., led to the capture.
The boy said he would likely return to Penjamo on Saturday after his mother sends the airfare.
He would rather live in the United States, where he shared a home with his mother, her boyfriend and two U.S.-born brothers, ages 1 and 16. He doesn't remember exactly when he left Mexico — perhaps in second grade — first for Riverside, then for Nebraska.
"Life is harder (in Mexico)" he said. "I really don't know anything here."
A U.S. Embassy official in Mexico City said the boy could return to Nebraska to testify under a tourist or business visa. The boy said he would testify if asked.