A Fort Collins, Colo., man accused of sexually assaulting multiple children used his position as a youth hockey program volunteer to earn the trust of his victims, according to federal arrest documents.
Andrew Todd Vanderwal, 27, is in FBI custody after reportedly evading law enforcement for more than a year. His FBI arrest affidavit, obtained by the Coloradoan on Wednesday, reveals new details about the case, including:
- Vanderwal faces allegations in both Colorado and Michigan for victims between ages 5 and 10.
- He is believed to have sought refuge with the Mennonite church, which he reportedly told family members would be taking him to Belize.
- He lived in a homeless shelter in Pueblo between scheduled court appearances, during which a resident who learned of his sexual assault allegations reportedly tried to kill him.
Fort Collins Police Services arrested Vanderwal in November 2016 after a family reported he had sexually assaulted their 6-year-old son. He was charged with five counts of sexual assault on a child.
Vanderwal was living with the boy and the boy’s father in their Fort Collins home when the series of assaults allegedly took place. When confronted by Fort Collins police, Vanderwal confessed that he sexually assaulted the boy and was arrested.
Three other families later reported similar accounts to police. FCPS has said the additional reports will likely lead to more charges for Vanderwal.
According to the FBI arrest documents, Vanderwal moved in with the family of each child after gaining their trust through his position as a volunteer for youth hockey programs.
Vanderwal volunteered with NoCo Ice Center’s U8 hockey program for children age 8 and younger, but the center cut ties with him after learning of his arrest, director of rink operations Sarah Nelson previously told the Coloradoan.
In emails to the program’s families obtained by the Coloradoan, Vanderwal identified himself as assistant coach of a U8 team and is pictured in team photos. On Wednesday, Nelson identified him as an “on-ice helper” rather than a coach.
On-ice helpers are required to pass background checks, Nelson said, but Vanderwal did not undergo a background check as part of his involvement with the team.
Asked why not, NoCo Ice Center Director of Hockey Operations Rhett Gordon said Vanderwal was only on the ice a handful of times, citing the account of the rink’s former U8 director. He described Vanderwal as “sneaking on the ice” and said Vanderwal accompanied one of his alleged victims and his father to the ice center.
Since Vanderwal’s initial arrest, the ice center has implemented a policy requiring people to sign in before entering the rink, Gordon said.
The Coloradoan is working to verify multiple reader reports that Vanderwal worked or volunteered with children at other Northern Colorado organizations.
Fleeing the country
Vanderwal was released from jail the day after his Fort Collins arrest when his parents posted his $7,500 bond, but he didn’t show up for a court hearing scheduled for Jan. 19, 2017. Fort Collins police later told the Coloradoan they believed he’d fled to Mexico to avoid prosecution.
In the weeks leading up to his missed court appearance, Vanderwal told family members the Mennonite church was “taking care of him,” according to the FBI arrest documents, which also said Vanderwal told his grandmother the Mennonite church “does not answer to the laws of man” and would be taking him to Belize.
Pastor Steve Ramer of the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship told the Coloradoan he doesn’t know Vanderwal and wouldn’t harbor someone suspected of harming children. But he spoke of “colony Mennonites” in Belize and other places who might have considered offering refuge to Vanderwal.
Some “colony Mennonites” speak an older form of German and eschew vehicles for horses and buggies, Ramer said. Groups not “savvy” with issues like sexual abuse might be more easily convinced that a person was being wrongfully persecuted because of Mennonites’ history of being persecuted by the government, he added.
“They have a little bit of a persecution complex,” Ramer said. “It wouldn’t be unusual for them to include somebody in their group who was being persecuted.”
FCPS requested suspension of Vanderwal’s passport the day he missed court on Jan. 19, 2017. The state department later granted that request, but it may have been too late to prevent Vanderwal from leaving the country: his bank account had been cleared out that month, according to FCPS.
Weeks later, El Paso, Texas, police told Fort Collins police they’d found a vehicle registered to Vanderwal abandoned near the Mexican border. The vehicle had been there since at least Jan. 26, 2017, El Paso police said.
The FBI did not answer Coloradoan questions about the date, location and circumstances of Vanderwal’s arrest. He is listed as an “in-transit” inmate at a jail in El Paso County in Texas, and it’s unclear when or if he will return to Larimer County.
After media coverage of Vanderwal’s 2016 arrest, three more families in Colorado and Michigan contacted Fort Collins police with allegations of sexual assault against him.
Their accounts were similar to the initial report: Vanderwal lived with each family and sexually assaulted his host family’s sons during his stay, they said. The earliest incident known to law enforcement happened while Vanderwal was living with a family from about late 2012 through spring 2014, according to the FBI document.
Three of the four boys eventually disclosed that Vanderwal had assaulted them. It is not known where each alleged assault took place.