Today, Maldonado, 28, formerly of Pelham and Methuen, is in a federal detention center in Houston awaiting trial for allegedly training with al-Qaida in Somalia.
For his wife, Tamekia Cunningham, who followed him to the war-torn African country with their three children, the cost of saving her marriage was death. Cunningham died from malaria prior to Maldonado's arrest.
"My daughter loved her husband, and she wanted to be a family," Yolanda Cunningham said in a recent interview in her Manchester home.
The couple's three children have been staying in Londonderry with Maldonado's parents since their father was arrested.
Yolanda never married, though she is now engaged, and she said that Tamekia's grandmother was divorced.
"She wanted to break that mold," Yolanda said. "She followed (Maldonado) everywhere."
Yolanda Cunningham raised her only child in Boston as a Seventh-day Adventist; Tamekia's father mostly stayed out of the picture.
Tamekia and her young mother were close friends. As Tamekia grew older, men would flirt with them, mistaking them for sisters.
In 1995, when Tamekia was 16, she and her mother moved to Salem, about seven miles from where Tamekia's future husband was living in Pelham.
Cunningham and Maldonado met while they were in high school. Yolanda remembers her daughter telling her she had her eye on a boy, but Tamekia was secretive about the details.
Jackie Robinson lived next door to the Cunninghams and was a close family friend.
"Tamekia was a very friendly, outgoing girl," Robinson recalled. "She could protect her own self. She didn't take anything off anyone, always had something to say back, always had to get the last word in."
Cunningham dropped out of school and worked retail jobs and at McDonald's. Maldonado also dropped out of Pelham High School in 1997, his junior year.
Cunningham became pregnant with Maldonado's son. She stopped working but earned her General Equivalency Diploma. For a while, she and the baby continued to live with Yolanda, and then they moved in with Maldonado and his parents. About a year and a half later, the two were married.