From the Big Screen to Real Life
In the movie 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a distraught Mom rents out three billboards near her home town to call out the local sheriff for not making progress in investigating the brutal murder of her daughter.
In a case of life imitating art, a single Mom in Colorado also grew frustrated with law enforcement’s efforts to track down the sexual abuser of her son. She didn’t put up billboards, however, she tracked him down herself.
A Predator in Their Midst
The lady, Lydia Lerma, lives with her family in Fort Collins, Colorado. She shares the custody of her son with her ex-husband.
Her ex-husband lived with a roommate, a 27 year old man named Andrew Vanderwal. Her ex-husband worked a lot, so Vanderwal would help him out by picking up the couple’s 12 year old daughter and six year old son from school, and look after them until their Dad got home from work.
Vanderwal bonded with the boy quickly and showered him with gifts. He bought Lerma’s son a $250 bike and a pair of Nike sneakers. The boy even took to referring to Vanderwal as “Uncle Drew.”
A Shocking Revelation
In October 2016, the son revealed to his father that Vanderwal had sexually abused him. The father IMMEDIATELY reported the incident to police. At that point, however, all the police had to go on was the testimony of a child. They were credible allegations, but they still needed proof.
Three days later the police got what they needed. In a phone call with the boy’s father, Vanderwal confessed that he had, indeed, inappropriately touched the child. The police soon swooped in and arrested Vanderwal.
Flight from Justice
Even though he was being held on charges of sexually abusing a young boy, Vaderwal, using money given to him by his parents, posted bond. Then he got in his car and headed south for El Paso, Texas. Once there, he abandoned his car and made his way across the border into Mexico.
Police Refuse to Release Information
The police knew that the fugitive had made his way out of the country after finding his car abandoned in El Paso. Here’s the kicker, though… they didn’t share that information with the boy’s family!
It was from local news reports — not the police — that Lydia Lerma learned that her son’s abuser had successfully fled the authorities and would likely NOT be brought to justice.
A Mother’s Fury
Like any mother would, Lydia Lerma was furious. She said that she became “really, really angry,” and, in a Facebook video, said that she was making it her personaly mission to find this fugitive from justice.
“If I have to head to Mexico myself and find this man, I will do it,” said Lerma.
That’s exactly what she did!
Public Pleas for Help
Lerma knew the power of the internet, so in May of 2017, after learning that Vanderwal’s car had been found in El Paso, she told her story through a Facebook video. This would be the first of many social media posts in which she asked the public for their help.
“At that point, I regularly posted public pleas to help find him — to circulate his image,” she told KMGH. “I contacted all kinds of organizations. I contacted news sources, just to keep this in front of the public and to just have that constant awareness that he was on the run.”
On January 4 of this year, she received a tip with “definitive information” about Vanderwal’s whereabouts in Mexico. She immediately contacted the FBI and expected the fugitive to finally be brought to justice, but that didn’t happen.
Still No Arrest
She waited and waited for word from the FBI that Vanderwal had been arrested and taken into custody, but the call never came.
“I understand the FBI had to work with Mexican authorities to make the arrest, but to me, it felt like it was taking too long, and I was in fear that he would flee again,” she told local TV station KMGH.
At that point, she said she’d finally “had enough.”
She Takes Matters Into Her Own Hands
She headed down to Mexico with a simple plan. She would personally appeal to the Mexican authorities and convince them to arrest Vanderwal. She even had the warrant for his arrest translated into Spanish to make it easier.
But before she could contact the police in Mexico, the FBI convinced her not to do it. She was not to be deterred, however, launched a mission of her own.
Stakeout in Mexico
“I understand the FBI had to work with Mexican authorities to make the arrest, but to me, it felt like it was taking too long, and I was in fear that he would flee again,” she told the TV station.
So, she took matters into her own hands and conducted her own surveillance of Vanderhal, making sure he didn’t evade capture once again!
“I put eyes on him. I photographed him. We followed him,” she told the station. “We found out the neighborhood he lived in. We kind of learned his routine in that area.”
She was accompanied to Mexico by her partner, Russ Lambert, pictured with her above. They literally crouched down in a van in a grocery store parking lot and took pictures of the Vanderhal in his new home.
Capturing the Fugitive
By February 19, about 6 weeks after that tip that led her to Mexico, police had him in custody. He appeared in court last week and now his bond’s been upped to $750,000. Even if he does find a way to pay that, they’re not letting him out again without an GPS tracker strapped to his ankle.
Fugitive Plays the Victim Card!
Vanderwal, the guy who confessed in a tape interview and then left his parents holding the bag for his bail is now, not surprisingly, playing the victim card.
“Mr. Vanderwal enjoys a constitutional right to be presumed innocent and looks forward to having the case evaluated by a jury, not a vigilante gunslinger like Ms. Lerma,” his lawyer, Troy Krenning, said in a statement to ABC News.
Oh, boo hoo!
Oh and by the way, he’s yet to enter a plea of “Guilty” or “Not Guilty.” Of course, that might just be because the police confirmed that more charges are pending.
A Happy Ending for the Victim
As for the true victim in this matter, Ms Lerma’s son, she confirmed that he’s doing really well, in spite of all he’s been through.
Lerma said, “My son is the bravest young boy you could ever imagine,” and confirmed that he’s doing “amazingly well.” He’s active in sports such as baseball and hockey, and has even become friends with some of Vanderwal’s other victims.
Here’s hoping that they, once and for all, can put this matter behind them and enjoy a healthy, happy, and prosperous future.