Colo. Teen Allegedly Beaten to Death by Ex in Parking Lot
As a longtime animal lover, 18-year-old Danielle Hopton spent her free time working at a local animal shelter and helping her dad raise guide dog puppies for the blind.
But on Feb. 6, the recent high school graduate's life was cut short when she was beaten to death, allegedly by an ex-boyfriend, say police.
Described as "a gorgeous, loving, kind and caring young woman," Hopton "was always smiling and laughing, she was always asking how you are doing and just genuinely cared about others," Bo Street wrote on a GoFundMe page set up for her family.
"She was such a selfless and caring person," he wrote.
The alleged domestic violence came to light on Feb. 6, when Fort Collins Police received a 911 call about an unconscious, injured woman in the parking lot of 525 East Drake Road, the department says in a release.
When officers arrived, they found Hopton in the parking lot "with life-threatening injuries consistent with an assault," according to the release.
She was rushed to a local hospital, where she died as a result of her injuries.
Detectives subsequently identified Stephen McNeil, 20, as a suspect in her killing, say police in the release.
"He and the victim knew each other," the release says.
The two "had previously been in a relationship," the release says.
Hopton and McNeil both went to Fossil Ridge High School, CBS4 reports.
Hopton graduated with the Class of 2020 with an academic award, according to CBS4.
McNeil was part of the track and football teams, CBS4 reports.
On Feb. 7, at noon, hours after the alleged beating death, officers found McNeil and took him into custody without incident.
He was booked into the Larimer County Jail on charges of first-degree murder, a felony, domestic violence, violation of a protection order, and violation of bail bond conditions.
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"Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of the victim," said Investigations Lieutenant Jeremy Yonce. "This heinous act of violence took a woman's life and forever changed the lives of her loved ones. We will continue working diligently to support her family and seek justice."
Besides being charged in connection with Hopton's death, CBS4 reports that online court records show that McNeil had been arrested in December and charged with a felony assault involving strangulation.
He was arrested in January and charged with misdemeanor criminal mischief.
He was released from jail on Jan. 22 on $2,650 in cash bonds, CBS4 reports. Documents in those cases have been sealed, the network reports, and it was not immediately clear if he has entered pleas or retained an attorney to comment on those allegations or the charges related to Hopton's case.
Through further investigation, detectives learned that "a group of friends," including Hopton, McNeil and another man, Ian Rayas, 20, of Timnath, "had been socializing that night," say police in the release.
"Several of the people eventually drove to an apartment complex at 525 E. Drake Road and parked to hang out," say police in the release.
"Hopton and McNeil," the release says, "got out of the vehicle to talk and the assault occurred. McNeil left the scene, and a member of the group called 911."
Rayas, who police allege falsely denied knowing what happened, was booked into the Larimer County Jail on felony charges of attempt to influence a public servant and accessory to a crime.
It is unclear if Rayas has entered a plea or retained an attorney who can speak on his behalf.
"Domestic violence happens all too frequently, and it affects people of all ages in many communities," FCPS Sgt. Heather Moore, who leads the Crimes Against Persons Unit, said in the release. "If you or someone you know is being affected by abuse, please reach out. We have resources in our community to help end the cycle of violence."
Anyone with information about this incident, who has not already spoken to police, is asked to call Corporal Tessa Jakobsson at 970-221-6575. People who wish to remain anonymous may also contact Crime Stoppers of Larimer County at 970-221-6868.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.
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