KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In a tragic twist to a familiar story, a teenager who had sex with his married 30-year-old teacher was fatally shot outside the woman's home, and authorities have charged the woman's husband.
"You see all this stuff with teachers involved with their students. It just comes up time after time on the national news," said Norman McLean, father of suspect Eric McLean. But this time, he said, someone "actually died over it."
McLean's wife, Erin, had completed half of a one-year teaching internship at West High School, where she met the 18-year-old Sean Powell last fall.
Powell's mother, who gave him up for adoption a dozen years ago but re-established contact in 2005, said her son acknowledged having an affair with a teacher.
"He wouldn't let me answer my cell phone," Debra Flynn recalled. "I said, 'Why?' He said, 'Well, Mom, I'm going out with this girl.' I said, 'So what?' He said, 'She is a counselor at school.' I said, 'Oh, my God, Sean.'"
Flynn, whose son sometimes stayed at her home in Nashville, said she later found text messages on her phone. "Come home. Baby, I love you. You are beautiful," they said. She believes Erin McLean preyed on her son.
"These teachers are feasting on our children in school and something has to be done," Flynn said.
Powell "was a great kid, full of life," Flynn said. He had taught himself to play guitar and just received his driver's license. His adoptive parents, Scarlett and Jack Powell, had just bought him a car.
But he left school on Nov. 20 and did not return. School officials refuse to explain, citing privacy laws. Flynn said her son had a substance-abuse problem and went to rehab for less than a month.
Norman McLean described his son, one of his eight children, as "an excellent person," who was not violent, but he acknowledged that his son "had a lot of burden on him for months now," referring to his wife's affair.
"Now, I am only talking about myself. But I can personally only take so much," Norman McLean said. "Everybody has a breaking point and there is only so much you can endure before you get to that place ... where you lose control."
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Norman McLean said his son, once a percussionist in the University of Tennessee marching band, put his own academic career on hold to support his family while his wife of 11 years pursued a graduate teaching degree from the University of Tennessee. He has worked as a pizza deliveryman while taking classes at the university.
Eric McLean is one semester short of completing a bachelor's degree in music education. A popular performer in local rock 'n' roll bands, he hoped to become a school band director.
On the evening of March 10, McLean called police to say an intruder was at the couple's home. About 7 minutes later, Erin McLean called back to say her husband had just shot Powell outside in the boy's car.
Eric McLean fled in his car, which was later found at the high school. McLean was arrested Sunday, walking along railroad tracks about 6 miles away, still carrying the suspected murder weapon, a shotgun.
Sean Powell was buried Thursday after a funeral attended by more than 150 friends and former classmates.
"I didn't color any rosy pictures," said the Rev. Lee Wallace, who officiated. "I said, Sean, like myself, is not perfect. He was a boy who had hopes and dreams and goals in life, like everybody else, and those were cut short."
Erin McLean has moved in with relatives in Nashville with the couple's two young sons, ages 11 and 7. She has not been charged with any wrongdoing. Police say she has hired a lawyer but could not provide a name.
The attorney for Eric McLean, 31, acknowledges that McLean killed Powell. "So this trial is going to be about what really did happen and why _ not who," attorney Bruce Poston said.
Poston said McLean is in a "state of shock. Like watching a deer caught in the headlights. Literally wondering, 'Have I made a decision that will ruin the rest of my life as well as others?'"
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