MIDDLETON — She was a middle-school student when she first met Andrew LeColst in the early 2000s.
LeColst, nearly twice her age, was dating a relative of the girl. He seemed friendly and caring.
When it seemed like the girl found an online admirer, someone on AOL Instant Messenger called "Skater" who said he was from Danvers and played hockey, LeColst, then in his mid-20s, offered his advice.
"He told her she needed to learn some things in order to be good enough" for "Skater," prosecutor Kristen Buxton told a Salem Superior Court judge on Tuesday.
LeColst, who at this point was practically a member of the girl's family, began taking her to places where they could be alone, like Brown's Pond in Peabody or later, his apartment in Middleton.
"He told her he needed to teach her how to kiss," Buxton told the judge. When she kissed him, "he told her she was bad at kissing and that she needed to practice."
Eventually, he was engaging in sexual intercourse on a weekly basis with the girl, who was 13, 14 and 15 at the time, he admitted Tuesday, when he pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated rape of a child and one count of indecent assault and battery on a child.
LeColst, now 41, was sentenced to two to five years in state prison.
His prison term, to be followed by five years of probation, was the result of a plea agreement between Buxton, who is a prosecutor in the Essex District Attorney's office, and LeColst's attorney, Vincent Tofani, which was accepted by Judge James Lang.
Among the conditions of his probation are that LeColst have no contact with the victim or her family, that he register as a sex offender, take part in sex offender treatment and wear a GPS.
He will also be barred from working in any capacity, volunteer or paid, with anyone under 16, Lang ordered, a condition reflecting LeColst's history as a hockey coach, including at Masconomet Regional High School, where he was an assistant for four years and head coach for one.
LeColst resigned from his job as a firefighter and paramedic for the town of Middleton, a position he'd held since 2008, on Monday evening, town administrator Andrew Sheehan confirmed on Tuesday.
Lang, during the sentencing hearing, said he was concerned that the sentence wasn't long enough given the length of time the abuse went on — nearly three years, from 2003 to 2005 — and its severity. But Lang said he would defer to the judgment of the district attorney's office and the victim's wishes.
The judge said he was struck by the contrasting depictions of LeColst by the victim and her family and LeColst and his family, friends and colleagues, some of whom suggested he had simply made a "mistake" or showed a "lapse of judgment."
"It creates a terrible dichotomy," said Lang. But, the judge also stressed, "We are not talking about mistakes or errors of judgment. These were not mistakes. This was a concerted and protracted course of conduct, involving manipulation, coercion, and deception."
And had the offenses occurred more recently, said the judge, LeColst would have been facing a mandatory minimum 10 years in prison on each of the aggravated child rape counts.
Buxton acknowledged the difficulty of coming up with a sentence, but said the agreement "does bring certainty and finality to the victim and her family."
LeColst's lawyer, Tofani, said LeColst "wants to make amends" for the harm he's caused, not only to the victim but to his own family.
"This has had a ripple effect," said Tofani, who told the judge about LeColst's wife and their four children. The lawyer also submitted 20 letters of support from family, friends and co-workers of LeColst.
Tofani also urged the judge to consider the work LeColst had done as a firefighter and paramedic, "making the town a safer place."
LeColst also offered an apology to his victim and her family, "for my actions a decade and a half ago."
"It's weighed on me a long time," he said.
"I promise to this court today, and I promise to everyone here that I will be a better person," LeColst said.
Victim: 'I couldn't get away'
Tuesday's hearing was the first time the details of the case were made public.
Buxton told the judge that in reality, there was no online admirer — only LeColst, using a now-defunct AOL Instant Messenger account to pose as a teenage boy. It's one of a series of "coercive, manipulative and exploitative" things LeColst would go on to do over the next few years, the prosecutor said.
By 2004, when LeColst was working at Masconomet Regional High School as an assistant coach, he had convinced the girl to transfer to the school district. He taught a sex education class she was in and coached a team she was on, said Buxton.
"She was around him on a constant basis," said Buxton. The sexual abuse continued, with LeColst taking her into a coaches room at a rink in Peabody for intercourse, she said. Other incidents happened at games in New Hampshire and Maine.
Then, said the prosecutor, LeColst began encouraging the girl to develop a friendship with another student. Buxton said LeColst had taken an interest in that other girl.
The victim told the judge Tuesday that LeColst "bragged" about looking at other girls.
"Everyone knew he was sketchy," she said in her victim-impact statement. "Everyone knew he was creepy." And when others spoke ill of him, "he would make me defend him."
"I couldn't get away," she said. "Everywhere I was, he made sure he was there," she said.
As the victim turned 16 and got her driver's license, she also began to gain some independence from LeColst, said the prosecutor. But she still kept the abuse a secret from her family, who had welcomed LeColst over the years.
Then, in 2009, her family was planning their annual visit to the Topsfield Fair. The girl learned that LeColst would be joining them.
The girl became distraught, said the prosecutor, and finally told her family what had been happening.
But she and they decided not to go any further.
"I was technically free, but he was also free," she told the judge. "I was too scared to do anything more. I was broken. I tried and tried for so many years to live a normal life."
But she was haunted by the abuse, suffering from flashbacks and nightmares. "For a long time, I didn't know how to deal with my anger, my sadness or my fear."
The relative who'd brought LeColst into the family told Lang on Tuesday that she felt "shock, horror and disgust" when she learned what he had done.
By February 2018, after years of therapy, the victim, now an adult, went to police and was interviewed by Peabody Sgt. Robert Mahoney, who was present for Tuesday's sentencing. The case was then presented to a grand jury, and LeColst was indicted and arraigned the following August.
"I'm taking back my life," the young woman told Lang in her victim-impact statement.
"Now everyone knows," she said in her statement. "Everyone knows who he is and what he will always be. Everyone knows he is a pedophile. Everyone knows he is a child molester. Everyone knows he is a child rapist. No one is surprised."
Carrie Kimball, a spokeswoman for the Essex District Attorney's office, said there are no other complaints pending against LeColst at this time.
Lang, acknowledging that he'd only met her and learned the details of the case on Tuesday, called the victim "indeed, a survivor," a young woman worthy of "great admiration and respect."
LeColst, who has been free on personal recognizance since his indictment and arraignment in the case in 2018, was taken into custody in the courtroom at the conclusion of the hearing.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.