- Five Alaska teens have been indicted on a range of charges in connection to the murder of a 19-year-old woman who they allegedly shot and dumped into a river.
- The teens allegedly committed the murder at the request of a 21-year-old Indiana man who posed as a millionaire online and promised to pay $9 million or more for footage of the killing.
- According to authorities, the victim’s “best friend”, who was the fake millionaire’s point of contact, had no idea that the man wasn’t who he said he was until after she was arrested.
- After learning she had been catfished, she ultimately admitted to being solicited by the man to plan and commit the murder.
The Murder of Cynthia Hoffman
Teenagers in Alaska are facing murder charges for allegedly shooting their 19-year-old friend and dumping her body in a river at the request of a fake millionaire who offered money for the footage.
Court documents say that 18-year-old Denali Brehmer invited her “best friend,” Cynthia “CeeCee” Hoffman, on a hike to Thunderbird Falls on June 2. Brehmer’s friend, 16-year-old Kayden McIntosh, joined them along the way. On that hike, McIntosh allegedly helped Brehmer bind Hoffman’s feet, hands, and mouth with duct-tape and then shot her in the back of the head when they reached their destination.
After murdering Hoffman, the teens allegedly dumped her body into the nearby Eklutna River. According to authorities, Brehmer texted Hoffman’s family to say they were dropping their daughter off at a park, but then she and McIntosh allegedly burned Hoffman’s belongings at another location.
“The only thing I know is that my daughter trusted these people,” Hoffman’s father, Timothy Hoffman, said in court on June 10. “My daughter just wanted friends, and now I have to bury her, and that is wrong.”
Mr.Hoffman also told Anchorage Daily News that his daughter was vulnerable because she had a developmental disability that made her operate at a seventh-grade level.“Her disability just made her want to have friends,” he said. “That’s all she wanted, was just to be her friend.”
Authorities say that a 21-year-old Indiana man named Darin Schilmiller convinced the teens to carry out the attack. Brehmer and Schilmiller met online and developed a relationship. He told Brehmer his name was Tyler and provided fake photos, saying he was a millionaire who lived in Kansas. He then allegedly offered her $9 million or more to “rape and murder someone in Alaska” and send him photos and videos of the killing.
“He does not look like the young man he portrayed himself to look like, he is not a millionaire, and he lives in Indiana,” prosecutors wrote in the memorandum. “This practice of assuming a fake identity to engage in online relationships is a practice commonly referred to as ‘catfishing.’
Brehmer then allegedly recruited other friends to help her carry out the attack. Authorities say that along with McIntosh, Brehmer, and Schilmiller, three other suspects have been charged.
Of the other three involved, two are juveniles and one has been identified as 19-year-old Caleb Leyland. Police say the other teens agreed to participate because they believed they would each receive a cut of the payment, though police have not clearly explained what role they may have played in the murder. Leyland told police that he had been promised $500,000 for his role.
Authorities say that Brehmer only learned that “Tyler” wasn’t who he said he was until after her arrest. In fact, when first questioned by police on June 6, Brehmer allegedly claimed that she had gone to Thunderbird Falls with Hoffman and McIntosh to take pictures of each other wrapped in duct tape. She said that she had no idea that McIntosh planned to shoot Hoffman.
“Once Brehmer realized she had been catfished by Schilmiller, she ultimately admitted to being solicited by Schilmiller to commit the murder and that the murder was planned,” prosecutors said.
After searching Brehmer’s cell phone, investigators uncovered sexually explicit photos and text messages between her and the fake millionaire. They also found directions from Schilmiller on how Brehmer should sexually assault a child for his viewing pleasure. Brehmer said that he had directed her to sexually assault two minors, one who was 8 or 9 years old, and another who was 15.
Investigators were unable to find videos of the younger child, however, they did find that she had sent Schilmiller child pornography that featured the 15-year-old victim, according to court documents. Investigators have also not found evidence that Cynthia Hoffman was raped, as Schilmiller had allegedly requested.
Upon his arrest, Schilmiller allegedly admitted that he picked Hoffman as Brehmer’s victim and said they discussed murdering someone else after killing Hoffman, but later abandoned that plan. He also told officials that they had planned the murder for three weeks, and said that Brehmer was in full communication with him during the killing, sending him Snapchat photos and videos. Schilmillet also allegedly admitted he had plans to blackmail Brehmer into raping people after the murder, according to prosecutors.
The six defendants have been charged with a range of murder and conspiracy charges. Schilmiller and Brehmer have also been indicted on first-degree solicitation to commit murder.
On top of those charges, Brehmer and McIntosh were hit with charges for tampering with physical evidence. Schilmiller and Brehmer also face child pornography charges and Schilmiller is currently awaiting extradition to Alaska.
In a June 8 court appearance, Brehmer told the room: “I know what I did was wrong and I know I could have probably done something different if I was able to, and I don’t want my daughter knowing that her mom grew up to be a killer because I don’t see myself as one.”
Brehmer’s half-sister, Rebekah Langdon, told the Daily News that Brehmer had a baby who was put up for adoption.
“All I know is that my daughter didn’t deserve all this. She should have had the friends that she wanted. She shouldn’t have had people that wanted to plot against her,” Hoffman’s father told local station KTUU. “And the ages of these people? I think it is sick. And now they don’t have to live the nightmare that I have to live.”
See what others are saying: (CBS News) (The Washington Post) (Anchorage Daily News)
SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section
- The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June.
- The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
- Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary.
- It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.
College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay
College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.
Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”
The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary.
While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S.
Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.
With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.
The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test
In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.
In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.
According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.
For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)
Biden To Block Trump’s Order Lifting COVID-19 Travel Ban
- President Trump issued an executive order Monday lifting a ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.
- Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when the CDC will start requiring all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
- The move was cheered by the travel industry; however, incoming White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki warned that Biden’s administration does not intend to lift the travel restrictions.
Trump Order End To COVID-19 Travel Ban
President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday ending his administration’s ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.
That ban was put in place last spring in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. In his announcement, however, Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when new rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into effect.
Starting that day, the CDC will require all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
The recommendation to lift the ban reportedly came from Alex Azar, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to Trump’s proclamation, “the Secretary reports high confidence that these jurisdictions will cooperate with the United States in the implementation of CDC’s January 12, 2021, order and that tests administered there will yield accurate results.”
It’s worth noting that the ban will stay in place for travelers from Iran and China. Still, Trump’s announcement was generally cheered by members of the travel industry who have been pushing to lift the ban and require preflight testing instead.
Biden To Block Trump’s Order
Soon after the news broke, the incoming White House press secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, Jennifer Psaki, warned that Biden would block Trump’s order.
“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she wrote on Twitter.
“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” she added.
With that, it seems unlikely that Trump’s order will actually take effect.
It’s also worth noting that this is one of many executive orders Trump has issued just before inauguration day.
Some of these orders could soon be overturned once Biden takes office Wednesday. Biden is also expected to roll out his own wave of executive orders in his first 10 days as president.
See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times) (CNN)
New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns
- The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
- The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
- The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.
CDC Issues Warning
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus.
The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.
Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.
Mitigating Spread of Variant
“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”
The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.
“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.
“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”