- 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)
Biden Issues Targeted Eviction Moratorium for Counties With High Community Transmission
While more limited than the previous eviction ban, the new policy applies to all areas with “substantial” and “high” COVID transmission, which currently includes 80% of counties that compose 90% of the population.
New Eviction Ban
Three days after the federal eviction ban expired, the Biden administration issued a new, more limited moratorium that will extend until Oct. 3.
Unlike the last freeze, the latest version announced Tuesday only pertains to areas of the country experiencing what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labeled “substantial” and “high” cases of COVID-19.
However, the rule still applies to the majority of the country given the new surges driven by the delta variant.
According to the CDC, 80% of counties that make up 90% of the population are currently experiencing substantial or high community transmission.
While not a full ban, many housing still advocates cheered the Biden administration, which has faced immense pressure to help the millions of Americans who risked losing their homes once the previous freeze expired.
“This is a tremendous relief for millions of people who were on the cusp of losing their homes and, with them, their ability to stay safe during the pandemic,” Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said in a statement Tuesday.
Still, others noted that there are outstanding issues with the new policy.
First and foremost, while the moratorium covers most Americans, it does not cover all. According to reports, there are counties in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York that are protected from evictions while neighboring counties are not.
The county-to-county patchwork also adds another layer of confusion for many people who are on the brink of eviction or who have already been evicted.
Tenants and landlords are now scrambling to see if the freeze applies to them, and because of the temporary lapse in protection, evictions resumed in some states and cities, meaning that some people who would now be covered under the ban have already been evicted.
Perhaps the most notable obstacle is the fact that the new moratorium will almost certainly face legal challenges.
The Biden administration previously argued that it did not have the jurisdiction to extend the eviction freeze unilaterally, citing a recent decision from the Supreme Court, which ruled that the CDC could not extend the ban past July and that Congressional action was needed.
Three days before the moratorium was set to expire, Biden asked Congress to pass legislation to extend it before leaving for their August recess. Republicans blocked the effort by unanimous consent, and Democratic leaders, frustrated with the president’s last-minute demand that left them with few options, said they did not have enough support for a formal vote.
Biden, for his part, has acknowledged that any freeze that comes from his administration would face this obstacle.
“Any call for [a] moratorium based on the Supreme Court’s recent decision is likely to face obstacles,” he told reporters Tuesday. “I’ve indicated to the CDC, I’d like them to look at other alternatives [other] than the one that is in existence, which the court has declared they’re not going to allow to continue.”
Any legal proceedings, however, will take time, meaning Congress could act before any disputes are resolved. The extended timeframe would also give state and local governments more leeway to distribute the nearly $47 billion in rental aid approved in the last two stimulus packages.
Only $3 billion of the funding has been distributed due to the numerous delays and hurdles municipalities have faced while struggling to create new systems to dole out the much-needed aid.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CBS News)
Virtually All Emperor Penguins Doomed for Extinction by 2100, Study Finds
The new study comes as the U.S. The Fish and Wildlife Service moves to submit a proposal Wednesday to add the Emperor penguin to its list of threatened species.
Concerns for Emperor Penguins
Nearly all of the world’s emperor penguin colonies may be pushed to the brink of extinction by 2100, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Global Change Biology.
More specifically, researchers behind the study said 98% of the colonies could be gone in the next 80 years if climate change continues causing sea ice to melt at its current pace. About 70% of colonies could die off by 2050, it added.
That is pretty huge news because Emperor penguins — the world’s largest penguin species —are a vital part of the Antarctic food chain. They prey on krill, squid, and small fish, and provide a source of food for leopard seals and killer whales.
However, the birds are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they depend on sea ice for viral activities like breeding, feeding, and molting, along with resting or seeking refuge from predators.
U.S. Moves To Protect the Species
The new study comes as the U.S. government considers adding the Emperor penguin to its list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to build off this new research, along with other data, for its proposal on Wednesday. Once published in the Federal Register, the proposal will be open to a 60-day public comment period.
If the classification is granted, the species would receive protections, including a ban on importations of the birds for commercial purposes.
“These penguins are hard hit by the climate crisis, and the U.S. government is finally recognizing that threat,” Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, told the Associated Press.
“Climate change, a priority challenge for this Administration, impacts a variety of species throughout the world,” said Martha Williams, principal deputy director of the wildlife service. “The decisions made by policymakers today and during the next few decades will determine the fate of the Emperor penguin.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (AP News)
Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations
The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter
Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.
Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.
Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.
DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools
On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.
The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.
DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.
At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.
Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.