After the man accused of molesting her son didn’t show up for his court date — and instead fled to Mexico — Lydia Lermer was going to make sure justice was served.
“I knew I had to do something,” the Colorado woman told Fox31. She called him an “absolute coward.”
So Lermer went to Mexico to hunt down the accused child molester, identified by police as Andrew Vanderwal, according to The Fort Collins Coloradoan. He just pleaded guilty to molesting two children as a part of a plea deal that comes with up to 24 years in prison.
Lermer said Vanderwal started to live in her ex-husband’s home in Fort Collins in 2015 and 2016, The Denver Post reported. As Lerma and her husband talked out a divorce, she told the newspaper that she didn’t feel comfortable having Vanderwal in the same house as her young son.
“Andrew would have sleepovers with neighborhood kids,” she told The Denver Post. “I always thought that was the most bizarre thing.”
Then, in October 2016, Lerma’s ex-husband told police that he walked into his home to find his 6-year-old son sitting next to Vanderwal while the boy’s pants were unzipped, according to The Denver Post. Police say the boy recalled Vanderwal touching his genitals and urging him to tell no one.
Vanderwal confessed to police, according to The Fort Collins Coloradoan, and was arrested in November 2016. He was released after his parents posted bail, police say, but skipped a January 2017 court hearing as another charge of sex assault was being considered.
Instead of going to the court hearing, Vanderwal ran away to Mexico, according to The Denver Channel.
Police say they found the man’s abandoned car near the Mexico border in late January 2017, according to The Fort Collins Coloradoan. But it wasn’t until January 2018 when Lerma says an anonymous tipster messaged her on Facebook with information about Vanderwal’s whereabouts after seeing the distressed mom’s plea for help.
“It was actually a family down in Mexico that saw my post,” she told Fox31, “and they reached out to me and figured that I had suffered long enough and I needed to know where he was.”
Lerma told the FBI what the anonymous person had told her: Vanderwal was in Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, Mexico and living with a German Mennonite community, according to The Fort Collins Coloradoan.
But, Lerma says, the FBI wasn’t acting quickly enough.
“Law enforcement basically had told me to cool my jets and to let them do their damn jobs,” she told Fox31.
Instead, Lerma took matters into her own hands and went to Mexico with her boyfriend in late January. They found Vanderwal in the town, she told The Denver Post, and sent pictures of the suspect to FBI agents.
He was in a parked car with children, Lerma told Fox31.
“The emotions were overwhelming,” Lerma said, according to the outlet. “There was part of me that wanted to jump out and grab him myself and handle the situation. There was part of me that wanted to kill him.”
FBI agents arrested Vanderwal in mid-February, just weeks after Lerma found him, according to The Denver Channel.
He is set for sentencing in March 2018.