- 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)
Fire Officials Warn of Viral TikTok “Outlet Challenge”
- Massachusetts firefighters are warning of an electrical “outlet challenge” seen on Tiktok that can cause fires or electrocution.
- The challenge involves partially inserting a cell phone charger into an outlet and trying to produce a spark by touching the exposed prongs with a penny.
- In two local schools, teens started a fire or torched outlets and are now facing charges of arson, attempted arson, and malicious damage to property.
“Outlet Challenge” Warning
Massachusetts fire officials are warning of a dangerous electrical “outlet challenge” spreading across TikTok after at least three reported incidents raised concerns.
The challenge involves partially inserting a cell phone charger into an outlet, then trying to produce a spark by touching the exposed prongs with a penny.
Massachusetts Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey issued a letter to all of the state’s fire chiefs on Monday warning of the viral social media challenge that has lead to copycat behavior. In the memo, Ostroskey said that his office had already received reports of two instances where teens tried to recreate the stunt.
“The result is sparks, electrical system damage, and in some cases fire,” Ostroskey wrote.
He advised fire officials to reach out to local news outlets, school officials, and parent organizations to make them aware of this trend, writing, “Alert them to this challenge, advise them to, not only look for signs of fire play like scorched outlets, but to have conversations about fire and electrical safety with tweens and teenagers.”
Charges Against Teens Involved
One of the incidents Ostroskey cited resulted in damage to an outlet inside a home. The other sparked a fire inside Westford Academy. The spark at Westford Academy created smoke that set off the school’s fire alarm, local authorities reported.
The student responsible for that incident is now facing charges, including arson and malicious damage to property, Westford Police Captain Victor Neal told CNN.
Meanwhile, NBC Boston reported that two students at Plymouth North High School were caught attempting the challenge twice in a matter of minutes inside a classroom on Tuesday.
Firefighters found two scorched outlets and a phone charger with a penny fused to the prongs, according to Plymouth Fire Chief Edward Bradley. There were no injuries, but the school’s superintendent Gary Maestas said the students involved could face serious consequences.
“We are working with the Plymouth Police and Fire Departments to fully understand the scope of this issue and pursue charges to the fullest extent of the law,” Maestas wrote in a statement.
Plymouth police said the two 15-year-old male students face charges of attempted arson and malicious damage to property under $1,200.
Dangers of the Stunt
“I don’t think students comprehend the reality that they can be electrocuted and killed, or start a fire,” said Chief Bradley.
Aside from starting fires or facing potential electrocution, Bradley said the challenge could also cause damage to electrical wiring behind walls, which could allow fires to burn within the walls undetected and endanger everyone in the building.
“Social media elevates it,” Bradley added. “They see it online, they see someone do it, they start laughing, they run away and no one gets hurt and they assume the same will happen when they do it, so they think it’s funny to do it in a classroom.”
“Parents need to talk to their children and tell them if you see this stuff, don’t try to imitate it.”
Virginia Senate Votes in Favor of ‘Red Flag’ Gun Bill
- Virginia’s Senate passed a “red flag” law, which allows law enforcement to temporarily take firearms away from an individual who is deemed a threat to themselves or others.
- The vote was close and fully along party lines, with 21 Democrats voting in favor and 19 Republicans voting against it.
- Democrats believe the law will prevent gun violence in the state, but Republicans see it as a threat to the Second Amendment.
- The vote happened just a few days after a large, and mainly peaceful, pro-gun rally was held in Virginia’s capital, Richmond.
- The bill still has to go to the state’s House of Delegates, which has a slight Democratic majority.
Red Flag Law Passes Senate
Virginia’s State Senate narrowly passed a bill Wednesday allowing law enforcement to temporarily confiscate firearms from someone deemed a threat, commonly referred to as a ‘red flag’ law.
The tight vote was strictly along party lines, with all 21 Democrats in the Senate voting yes, and 19 Republicans voting no. The bill, SB 240 specifically states that a law-enforcement officer or attorney can apply for an emergency substantial risk order. This order would “prohibit a person who poses a substantial risk of injury to himself or others from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm.”
If that order is issued, a judge or magistrate can issue a search warrant allowing for firearms to be temporarily removed from that person. Democrats in Virginia have long been fighting for gun-control measures to be passed. They stand behind SB 240 because they believe it will lead to fewer mass shootings and other forms of gun violence in general.
State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32) tweeted that she believes this bill will prevent crime.
Sen. George Barker (D-39) first introduced the bill. According to the Washington Post, he said it moved the state in “a positive direction” and the law could “protect lives and reduce violence in Virginia.”
State Democrats are not alone in supporting this measure. Nationally, red flag laws generally have a lot of support from the public. According to an August 2019 study from APM Research Lab, Americans are generally in favor of these kinds of legislation.
The study found that 77% support family initiated orders and 70% support police initiated orders. Even when it comes to political parties, both a majority of Republicans and Democrats support it. Gun owners also support it, though by a lesser margin, with 67% of the demographic supporting family initiated orders and 60% supporting police initiated ones.
Still, Virginia’s Senate Republicans were strongly opposed to the measure. They believed it was a heavy infringement on peoples’ right to bear arms.
“Each legislator that votes in favor of this bill in my opinion is a traitor to Virginia, a traitor to the Second Amendment and a traitor to our constitutional freedoms,” said Republican Sen. Amanda Chase (D-11).
The NRA called SB 240 an “unnecessary attack on Second Amendment rights.”
Pro-Gun Rally and What Happens Next
SB 240 is one of many gun control laws Virginia is working on passing. This Senate vote came just a few days after a major pro-gun rights rally happened in Richmond, Virginia’s capital city.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency ahead of Monday’s event, and guns were not allowed at the rally, largely over fears that there could be a repeat of what happened in Charlottesville in 2017.
According to reports, about 22,000 people attended the rally, which remained largely peaceful. No violence was reported, though some extremist groups were present.
At the rally, several of the gun-rights activists spoke out against the gun control legislation floating through Virginia. One clip from the rally, shared by BuzzFeed News reporter Andrew Kimmel went viral. In it, Richard Vaughan, Sheriff of Grayson County in Virginia, said he and his county would not enforce enacted gun control legislation.
This is Sheriff Richard Vaughan of Grayson County, VA. “If the bills go through as proposed, they will not be enforced. They are unconstitutional.” This is not true, according to the Exec. Dir. of the VA Assoc. of Chiefs of Police… #Richmond2ARally pic.twitter.com/mjpQupE6of— Andrew Kimmel (@andrewkimmel) January 20, 2020
“If the bills go through as proposed, they will not be enforced,” he said. “They are unconstitutional. We support and uphold the constitution of the United States and the constitution of Virginia. And that’s what we’ll do.”
SB 240 is not set in stone yet, though. The bill still has to go to Virginia’s House of Delegates, which has a Democratic majority but only by a slim margin.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (WRIC ABC 8)
Michelle Carter, Who Encouraged Her Boyfriend’s Suicide, Released From Prison Early
- Michelle Carter was released early from prison for good behavior after serving 11 months of her 15-month sentence for involuntary manslaughter.
- Carter was charged in 2017 after encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself through text messages and phone calls as he contemplated suicide.
- Her release comes about a week after the US Supreme Court said it would not hear her appeal to overturn her conviction.
Who is Michelle Carter?
Michelle Carter, the Massachusetts woman who encouraged her boyfriend’s suicide when she was 17-year-old, was released from prison Thursday, months ahead of schedule.
The now 23-year-old was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in 2017 after making a series of texts and calls to 18-year-old Conrad Roy III, convincing him to carry out plans to take his own life. Roy died by suicide in 2014 when he poised himself with carbon monoxide inside of his pickup truck.
According to investigators, Carter suggested multiple ways for Roy to end his life and at one point even pushed him to return to his car when he was having second thoughts.
Carter was released from the women’s center at the Bristol County House of Corrections after serving 11 months of her 15-month sentence. She had previously been denied parole in September but according to the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, she has now earned enough credit for good behavior and attending jail programs to qualify for an early exit.
“Ms. Carter has been a model inmate in Bristol County,” a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. “She has attended programs, had a job inside the jail, has been polite to our staff and volunteers, has gotten along with other inmates, and we’ve had no discipline issues with her whatsoever.”
Carter’s released comes about a week after the US Supreme Court said it would not hear her appeal to vacate her conviction.
During her 2017 sentencing, the judge ruled that her “virtual presence” made her responsible for Roy’s death. Her legal team fought against the verdict, but Carter ultimately began serving her prison sentence last February after Massachusetts’ highest court refused to overturn her conviction.
Carter’s lawyers then filed a petition to the Supreme Court last July, arguing that it was against her First Amendment rights to free speech to convict her “based on words alone.” Her lawyers also questioned whether the conviction was constitutional in regard to the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause.
The Supreme Court’s refusal to see Carter’s case left her conviction intact and while she has now completed her time behind bars, Carter still has five years of probation to serve.
In response to the news of her release, Roy’s family said, “news of the Supreme Court denying to hear her case far out shadowed the news of her early release. Her time in jail, no matter how long or short, will not change the outcome of a guilty verdict which is thankfully being upheld.”
“July 12, 2014, our lives were forever changed, and the world lost a beautiful soul. Michelle Carter is the reason for that,” the statement continued. “She was the only person who could have saved him. She didn’t, in fact she was on the line with him as he was dying, moaning in pain, gasping for last breaths. Who could do that?”
“She did, and we’ll never really know why.”