After spending months begging for action, Lydia Lerma set a deadline in her head. If the authorities didn’t find and re-arrest the man who molested her son, she would go to Mexico and find him herself.
As the Coloradoan reports, in November 2016, Andrew Vanderwal was arrested for the sexual assault of Lerma’s 6-year-old son. Vanderwal had been roommates with the boy’s father (Lerma’s ex-husband). Under interrogation, he confessed to molesting the boy on multiple occasions.
Lerma had argued with her ex-husband about Vanderwal’s interest in their children, saying she thought it was odd that he showered their son with gifts and attention. After Vanderwal’s arrest, the mom from Fort Collins, Colorado found photos and notes in the man’s closet that suggested their son wasn’t the only victim.
Lerma’s ex-husband told the Coloradoan how Vanderwal had manipulated him:
“He told me he was a pediatric medic in the Air Force, and he served in Afghanistan, and he saw so many horrible things and so many children he couldn’t save. I looked at him like a son. Looking back, he was grooming me, too.”
After his arrest, Vanderwal was able to post a $7,500 bond. He then ran, leaving his car in El Paso and crossing the border into Mexico.
When Vanderwal disappeared, Lerma couldn’t rest. Her ex-husband hoped that Vanderwal was dead so their son wouldn’t have to testify against him in court. Meanwhile, Lerma worried that Vanderwal might still be in Colorado, watching them.
Tired of waiting, the mom pestered the police and FBI about Vanderwal’s location. She began posting on Facebook, begging for help finding him and asking followers to be on the lookout.
Catch A Pedophile – Andrew Todd Vanderwal*Please share this video and my plea.
Posted by Lydia Lerma on Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Finally, she made up her mind. If Vanderwal wasn’t re-arrested by January 19, 2018, Lerma would quit her job, cash in her retirement, and go to Mexico to find him.
Two weeks before that deadline, Lerma got a tip via a fake Facebook account. The tipster was worried about retaliation and asked to stay anonymous. But he was able to provide Vanderwal’s new alias, cell phone number, and location near Ciudad Cuauhtemoc.
Lerma shared the information with the FBI, who told her they lacked the jurisdiction to act but were working on bringing Vanderwal back.
But the authorities were moving too slowly for the determined mom. She and her partner, Russ Lambert, decided to go to Mexico and convince local police to arrest Vanderwal. She got his arrest warrant translated to Spanish and took plenty of cash in case it was needed for bribes or bail.
According to the Coloradoan, when Lerma informed her FBI contact about her plan, he sent a text to dissuade her:
“Lydia, I know your desire to get this guy, but DO NOT go to Cuauhtemoc. There’s nothing positive you can accomplish that is not already in the process of being accomplished.”
By the time she received his message, she was already in Mexico. She told the Coloradoan that she had no regrets:
“I didn’t doubt myself. I felt like I was finally accomplishing something. I put a fire under their asses. Finally, I’ve got their attention.”
The FBI warned Lerma that local authorities could tip off Vanderwal instead of arresting him, so they decided to photograph the fugitive in Mexico and hand over all the information they could to the FBI.
Lerma and Lambert managed to lure Vanderwal to a grocery store parking lot, where the mom crouched just out of his sight. An avid hunter and firearms instructor, Lerma confessed to the Coloradoan that — still angry over what he did to her son — she briefly thought about killing him:
“The only way I can explain it is, I hunt. And when you’re hunting and you see an animal, there’s that adrenaline rush — can I take this shot? Can I do this?”
She was also tempted to grab him and take him back to the U.S. herself:
“I was like, finally, here he is. I could grab this bastard if I wanted to. I could drag his ass to El Paso right now if I want.”
In the end, she settled for tailing Vanderwal and sending all the photos and details to the FBI. But she told herself that if the arrest didn’t come within a few weeks, she’d come back to Mexico, capture Vanderwal, and bring him back across the border.
About a week before Lerma’s mental deadline, the FBI agent in Mexico texted her to let her known that Vanderwal had been arrested.
On March 1, after months of waiting, Lerma finally got the closure she had been waiting for Vanderwal was sentenced to 24 years to life in prison. Six of his victims, including Lerma’s son, spoke at the sentencing hearing about how Vanderwal had hurt them.
Lerma’s son told the court, “he made my life feel sad.”
Lerma had told the Coloradoan that she wouldn’t feel like her hunt was over until he was behind bars as a convicted pedophile. “This is the day that we have all been waiting for,” she told Fox 31 News. She added:
“I made a promise to my son. I promised him that I would find him, that I would find Vanderwal.”