SOUTHERN COLORADO — A Colorado father says more needs to be done to stop child predators from targeting young children on dating apps, and he's now taking matters into his own hands.
In what some may call vigilante justice, Thomas Fellows poses as an underage teen to lure men on the Internet and live stream videos on YouTube when they show up in person.
Fellows is a window washer who now spends his days working to catch predators.
Armed with cameras and safety vests, Fellows and a small team gear up to expose older men hoping to meet young boys and girls for sexual encounters.
"I go on a dating app called Grindr," Fellows said. "I never reach out to these people. They reach out to me first. They ask me my age, and I tell them I'm 13, and they are supposed to block me and have me banned."
While Fellows says some people will do the right thing and ban his profile, he says a majority of men have no problem quickly advancing the online conversation.
News 5 asked, "How quickly after the conversation starts do these men want to meet up?"
"Sometimes it's within 30 minutes," he said. "Sometimes, it's a couple of days. Sometimes it starts with a conversation, then nude photos and then wanting to meet within 30 minutes."
News 5 asks, "It really happens that quickly?"
"Yes," Fellows said. "That quick."
When the men arrive for those "casual encounters," they're met by Fellows and his cameras.
"Have a seat," Fellows can be heard saying after "busting" an adult man looking to meet a 13-year-old boy.
Fellows asks the man what he's doing.
"Well, I was on Grindr," the man said. "And I met someone on it. He said he was 13."
Fellows asks, "How old are you?"
"I'm 24," the man replied.
Fellows asks, "So if I wasn't here, what were you going to do with a 13-year-old?"
"I wouldn't have done anything they didn't want me to do," the man replied.
Fellows ask a hypothetical question.
"So if he (a 13-year-old) wanted to have sex, you would have done it?"
"I might have," the man said. "I don't know."
News 5 asked Fellows whether he ever fears for his safety confronting men who may have a weapon.
"We have had situations where they did show up with weapons," he said. "Honestly, I think we have a little bit of a benefit because we let them know we are not law enforcement. We let them know we can get them counseling and some help."
Fellows says it's unbelievable how many men are willing to risk going to jail to meet up with minors.
On another sting, Fellows confronts a man at a nearby department store.
He asks the man who he's here to meet.
"Tommy," the man said.
Fellows then asks, "How old is Tommy?"
"He is 14," the man said.
Fellows replies, "How old are you?"
"I'm in my mid-30's," the man said. "I was hoping to sniff his feet."
Some men drive away, while others run away when confronted.
"When I can get online and within 120 days catch 90 guys, that's a problem," Fellows said.
News 5 asked Fellows about the excuses some of the men provide when confronted.
"The first thing they say is it's always their first time."
This grandfather thought he was showing up to meet a 13-year-old girl named "Cici."
Fellows asked the man, "How old is Cici?"
"She said she was 13," the man said.
Fellows asks, "Is that against the law?"
"Yes," the man said.
Fellows then asks if the man is married.
"Yeh," the man replied.
"Does your wife know you're on this chatting website?"
"No," the man said. "I only got on there 4-5 days ago. It was a bad idea."
Fellows asks, "You've never done this before?"
"No," the man said.
Fellows says he busted a man who wanted to pay money to meet up with a 15-year-old boy in another sting.
"You knew you were here to meet a 15-year-old, right?"
"Yes," the man said.
Fellows asks, "How often do you do that?"
"Believe it or not, it would be the first time," the man said.
"This would be your first time meeting an underage boy?"
"It's always their 'first time, and a lot of times they'll say they were just going to be friends and tell them (the minor) that they shouldn't be doing this even though these men sent nasty pictures and said they want to do these nasty things," Fellows said.
Fellows asked one man why he wanted to pay $200 to have sex with a 15-year-old.
The man replied, "That's crazy, isn't it?"
Sadly, Thomas says some of the men he confronts admit what they are doing is wrong but still did it anyway.
In another bust, Fellows meets a man who was hoping to meet up with a 13-year-old.
Fellows asks the man how old he is.
"I'm 52," the man replied.
Fellows follow up by asking whether it's okay for a 52-year-old to meet a 13-year-old girl.
"No, not really," the man said. "No."
Out of the last 35 sting operations Fellows and his team conducted, he says about two dozen ended with an arrest.
"It's worth it for me to get out there and hopefully prevent this from happening to another child."
Fellows is proud of a recent arrest out of Woodland Park involving a man arrested and formally charged with committing a very similar crime just over a year ago.
Robert A. Elliott was arrested and charged in December 2019 with Internet Luring of a Child and Child Sex Assault. He has an upcoming court hearing on July 27.
In the Woodland Park case last month, Elliot is charged with Internet Luring of a Child and two other felonies. He has a court date set for July 12 for this case.
You can view Fellows' video sting operations on his YouTube Channel. He says he has no plans to stop busting alleged predators.
Frequently asked questions (FAQ's):
Q: Do Mr. Fellows have a law enforcement background?
A: No. He does not carry a gun or have any law enforcement license. He is considered a citizen with a camera.
Q: Do police support his efforts?
A: He says he's received mixed feedback. Some law enforcement agencies will respond to his calls when he busts alleged predators, but some agencies have told Fellows that they will not get involved in what he does.
Q: Are Mr. Fellows using someone else's photos to pose as an underage minor?
A: No. Mr. Fellows says he's using "modified" pictures of himself on the Internet. Multiple apps allow people to "touch up" or change their features. However, News 5 has elected not to disclose in this broadcast how to alter photographs.
Q: What apps are Mr. Fellows using?
A: He says he uses multiple apps and websites, including Facebook, Instagram, Kik, and Grindr.
Q: What type of charges are these men facing after getting "busted"?
A: A review of court records often show these men face "internet luring" and/or "sexual exploitation of a child" charges.
Q: Why did Mr. Fellows get involved in these sting operations?
A: He says his son was molested a decade ago, and he has little sympathy for men who prey on children.
Eric Ross at KOAA first reported this story.