How This L.A. Mom Finally Brought The Teacher Who Sexually Abused Her to Justice 20 Years Later (Exclusive)

Stephanie Langlitz, now 36, was a 14-year-old high school freshman when her Spanish teacher groomed her into a sexual relationship that lasted from 2002 to 2004

<p>Sarah Geiger</p> Stephanie Langlitz

Sarah Geiger

Stephanie Langlitz

For nearly two decades, Stephanie Langlitz never told a soul about a sexual relationship that began in 2002 when she was a 14-year-old high school freshman in Oro Valley, Ariz., — a relationship that was initiated by her Spanish teacher, Mr. Lindrud. But in 2017 when she turned 30 — the same age he was when her teacher started the abuse — the severity of what had happened clicked for her.

“It completely skewed my perception of what a relationship is and should be,” Langlitz, now 36, exclusively tells PEOPLE. “And that took me many years to recognize.”

Langlitz met Mark Lindrud, then 30, during the first week of school in the 2002 fall semester. She remembers how he tried to “portray himself as that cool, young, hip sort of teacher,” who was approachable. He would often help her with homework in the classroom at Ironwood Ridge High School during a free period and ask her to respond to personal messages from his AOL instant messenger inbox.

“He built what felt like a friendship, disclosing personal information about himself,” she says. “The conversations and communications slowly grew.”

One Friday afternoon, Langlitz heard a man call out to her in a noisy school hallway: “7 p.m!”

Langlitz — who was being treated for depression — had recently moved from upstate New York and was struggling to fit in. So when her sympathetic teacher asked her to meet him at a park that evening, she agreed. “I thought he was my friend,” she says.

Friendship wasn’t the intention. At the crowded park, Lindrud lifted Langlitz in his arms, carried her to a bench and thrust his hand down her shorts. She was too shocked to react. “I went home and just had no words,” says Langlitz, now 36. “I couldn’t believe he had done that.”

After that first assault, Lindrud asked her to join him for make-out sessions and other sex acts in his car, which he had often parked outside her house. “I thought he was giving love,” says Langlitz. Lindrud then persuaded her to have sex with him at his apartment. He eventually introduced her to his friends and family, lying and saying she was his 19-year-old girlfriend.

<p>Courtesy Stephanie Langlitz</p> Stephanie Langlitz and teacher Mark Lindrud at Disneyland in 2003. Her parents thought she was away with a friend

Courtesy Stephanie Langlitz

Stephanie Langlitz and teacher Mark Lindrud at Disneyland in 2003. Her parents thought she was away with a friend

When rumors about a student-teacher relationship circulated at school, Langlitz was confronted by a guidance counselor and her parents but denied that she was involved.

“He said if I told anyone about us, his life would be over,” she tells PEOPLE. “He completely isolated me.”

For more on Stephanie Langlitz’s path to justice, subscribe now to PEOPLE, or pick up this week's issue, on newsstands Friday.

Ever since Langlitz and her parents relocated across the country two years earlier, the “toxic relationship” with her parents hadn't gotten any better. With her two siblings away at college, Langlitz felt alone.

“I think they were very focused on their relationship and what they had going on,” she says, adding how she believes being the youngest child contributed to her not being as strictly watched as her other siblings.

<p>Courtesy Stephanie Langlitz</p> Stephanie Langlitz in a 2001 yearbook photo.

Courtesy Stephanie Langlitz

Stephanie Langlitz in a 2001 yearbook photo.

Still, after getting her driver’s license at 16 and gaining a degree of independence, she started to question her teacher’s motives. During a tearful confrontation in 2004 — during which Lindrud admitted he was four years older than he had told Langlitz — she found the strength to walk away. “I remember being like, ‘You’re a grown man; you’re pathetic,’ ” she says.

By 2017, when Langlitz was a single mom raising her now 9-year-old son (whose name she declines to share) and was emerging from a relationship with a man that had ended badly, she sought treatment for depression — and unlocked the dark secrets of her past.

“The first thing I said to my psychiatrist was, ‘Well, I had a relationship with a teacher when I was 14,’ ” she says. The psychiatrist told Langlitz that was legally sex abuse, which the psychiatrist was required to report to authorities.

Then, late one night after Langlitz had put her son to bed in 2021, she impulsively searched for Lindrud online and discovered he was still teaching teenagers at a high school in Aurora, Colo. “I said, ‘I cannot let this happen again,’ ” says Langlitz.

<p>Courtesy Stephanie Langlitz</p> Stephanie Langlitz with teacher Mark Lindrud in Manhattan Beach, Calif., in 2003.

Courtesy Stephanie Langlitz

Stephanie Langlitz with teacher Mark Lindrud in Manhattan Beach, Calif., in 2003.

She emailed the principal of Vista PEAK Preparatory, who replied that he would report Lindrud’s past behavior to police in Oro Valley, Ariz. Within weeks Langlitz — who saved photos from secret trips, drive-in movie tickets, receipts for lingerie and other evidence of her interactions with Lindrud — was working with prosecutors to build a case. Even 20 years after the alleged offense, Arizona's statute of limitations for child sex crimes allowed Langlitz to seek justice at last.

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up for PEOPLE's free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases.

That process included a confrontation call, during which Langlitz says Lindrud openly admitted to everything and blamed his actions on being “immature.”

“The way he sounded on the phone was so creepy,” she says, adding how it sounded high-pitched and phony. “Just his voice, it just made my skin crawl.”

Lindrud was arrested in Colorado and extradited to stand trial in Arizona. During the trial, Langlitz was face to face with her abuser for the first time in years. “I was very nervous the day before, but the morning of, it was almost like an athlete going into a game,” she recalls.

On June 30, 2022, Lindrud, 50, was convicted of 20 counts of sexual conduct with a minor and one count of sexual abuse of a minor. Langlitz says she was calm when she testified against him in court but broke down after the guilty verdicts. “I finally spoke my truth.”

<p>Lucia Tran</p> Stephanie Langlitz with her 9-year-old son together in 2020.

Lucia Tran

Stephanie Langlitz with her 9-year-old son together in 2020.

Now living with her son in L.A., Langlitz, a marketing consultant, urges parents to be involved in their kids’ lives and to create space for them to be honest about their relationships.

When not working, she likes to hike to the famous Hollywood sign, put her phone on Do Not Disturb and reflect on her journey. “I finally made it here,” she says. “I’m healing at last.”

For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on People.