The 19-year-old Alaska woman wanted nothing more than to feel as if she belonged, and went above and beyond for those she loved. Police say her best friend Denali Brehmer took advantage of that to fulfill the wishes of a catfish online.
For Cynthia Hoffman, there was no such thing as too many friends.
The 19-year-old Alaska woman wanted nothing more than to feel as if she belonged, and went above and beyond for those she loved.
“She had a lot of people who loved her,” her father, Timothy Hoffman, told InsideEdition.com. “She just wanted to hang out and she just wanted to be happy.”
Arguably those closest to Cynthia were her family, an incredibly tight group that included her four sisters, two brothers and two cousins being raised alongside her. Their father was at the helm of it all.
“We were so close together, you could not break that bond,” Hoffman said. “Every time they did something, they always called dad.”
Theirs was a family that operated on a policy that honesty is best, and communication is key. No matter the circumstances, no matter the time, Hoffman’s children knew they could call their father and that if their father called them, to pick up the phone.
“I was what people said I was: an overprotective parent,” Hoffman said.
“But look what happened.”
On June 2, Cynthia left her family’s home to spend time with her friends doing what teenagers do.
“I thought Cynthia was going to the movies, go to the mall,” Hoffman said.
Hours passed and as evening neared, Hoffman realized he hadn’t heard from his daughter and began to worry.
“She wasn’t answering her phone, but I kept calling her, [saying,] ‘No matter what, if you’ve done anything wrong or anything, daddy’s never mad at you,’” he said.
Evening faded into night, and by 11:30 p.m., Hoffman still hadn’t heard from Cynthia.
“I knew in my heart something for sure went wrong, because she didn’t answer her phone, and she didn’t call me,” he said.
Hoffman called the police, and though he was told he would have to wait 24 hours to report his daughter missing, he made it 12 before calling back. Alaska Police began searching for Cynthia.
Not content to sit back and wait for the police, Hoffman also took to the streets to search for his daughter. It was while he combed through the woods and town for any sign of Cynthia, Hoffman said he heard from her best friend, 18-year-old Denali Brehmer. The pair met while attending the same high school in Anchorage and soon became inseparable.
“She came over here a few times … [and Cynthia would ask,] ‘Hey dad, can I go hang out with her dad?’ ‘can I stay the night with her?’ ‘can I go do this with her?’” Hoffman said. “And then while I was waiting [for police], her best friend called me and started texting me, saying ‘I hope she’s alright, I hope nothing’s happened to her.’”
Then on June 4, two days after she went missing, police found Cynthia’s body on the bank of Eklutna River.
She was discovered in a creek near Thunderbird Falls in Eagle River, on the outskirts of Anchorage.
Cynthia’s hands and feet were bound with duct tape, which had also been wrapped around her head, covering her mouth, court documents said. She had been fatally shot.
Two days later investigators would identify one of the six people they have since claimed was responsible for Cynthia’s death: Denali Brehmer.
Cynthia put her all into whatever she was doing, and she asked for little in return.
Though academics did not come easy, she put her head down and did the work needed to graduate high school. She wasn’t discouraged when some said she couldn’t achieve that goal, she didn’t complain when she needed to change schools for a better chance at finishing and she took on the additional work her tutors recommended in stride.
“It took her longer to learn things,” Hoffman said.
Cynthia had a developmental disability that left her intellectually operating at the level of a seventh grader, her father said.
After graduating, Cynthia went to work for her father at Hoffman Handyman & Repair. There, she gave it her all, too.
“She was ‘daddy’s right-hand man,’ is how she called it,” her father said. “She learned the trade … she went from not knowing how to do things … to kicking it. She was better than half the workers I’d hire out on the road. She would do anything to make me happy.”
Next, Cynthia set her sights on getting her driver’s permit and after that, her driver’s license, with her ultimate goal to call her father’s 2002 Ford Focus her own.
“All leather seats, boom box in the trunk,” Hoffman said of the car he’d promised his daughter.
It was another goal she was close to attaining.
“My last conversation with her was me telling her how much I was proud of her … I said, ‘You know, Cynthia, you’ve come a long ways, daddy’s so proud of you. You hurry up and get that permit, I’ll give you that car before you even get your license,” Hoffman said. “She almost got it, too.”
And throughout it all, her mission in life to be the consummate friend remained.
But Cynthia’s disability made her vulnerable, and those she considered to be her friends were nothing of the sort, according to her father.
Cynthia’s death was the brainchild of Brehmer, who believed a man she met on the internet and thought to be a millionaire would pay her a fortune to film and carry out a murder, according to a bail memorandum filed by the State of Alaska.
Brehmer, known as “Angel,” thought she was in a relationship with a man named Tyler from Kansas, who investigators believe was actually 21-year-old Darin Schilmiller of New Salisbury, Indiana.
“Several weeks before Hoffman’s murder, the two began discussing a plan to rape and murder someone in Alaska,” the court document said.
Posing as “Tyler,” Schilmiller offered Brehmer at least $9 million to carry out a killing, and she recruited four friends — Caleb Leyland, 19; Kayden McIntosh, 16; and two other juveniles — to help plan and commit the murder, prosecutors said.
“Cynthia Hoffman, who was allegedly ‘best friends’ with Brehmer, was selected by the group as the murder victim,” the court document said.
The group assembled, plotted out the killing and discussed how they would split the payout for taking their friend’s life, prosecutors said.
Then on June 2, Brehmer and McIntosh allegedly picked up Cynthia, drove to Thunderbird Falls under the guise of going on a hike, and set out along the bank of the Eklutna River, the memorandum said.
They stopped at a clearing, made it so Cynthia couldn’t escape and then using a gun provided by Brehmer, McIntosh allegedly shot Cynthia one time in the back of the head.
Evidence allegedly shows that throughout the killing, Brehmer kept in touch with Schilmiller, “communicating with and sending videos and/or photographs of the events surrounding the incident,” the court document said.
They allegedly left her body in the river.
After she and McIntosh allegedly destroyed some of Cynthia’s clothing, cellphone and purse, Brehmer began texting Hoffman that Cynthia had been dropped off at Polar Bear Park, prosecutors said.
“She was covering her steps,” Hoffman said. “I still believed her, it was her best friend.”
Police said Brehmer initially told them she, McIntosh and Cynthia had gone to Thunderbird Falls to take pictures of each other wrapped in duct tape, and that she had no idea McIntosh would go on to shoot Cynthia.
After obtaining a search warrant for Brehmer’s phone, investigators said they found child pornography “in plain view,” according to an affidavit in support of a criminal complaint filed by the FBI.
A second warrant led investigators to learn the child pornography was embedded in text messages between Brehmer and a number she said belonged to “Tyler,” who lived in Kansas, the affidavit said.
Brehmer allegedly said she was directed by “Tyler” to sexually assault two minors and that she took the videos on her phone at his direction.
“Gonna go buy weed first,” Brehmer wrote to “Tyler,” who she had listed in her phone as “Babe,” while discussing an allegedly upcoming assault they planned, the court documents said. “I wanna get her high for it first so she doesn’t fight me.”
At a later point in Brehmer’s conversation with Schilmiller, he allegedly wrote: “I wish I never made a deal with you in the first place … we can meet but once I see a cop I’m telling him or her that I made you rape people and killed cece,” apparently in reference to Cynthia’s nickname, investigators said.
After learning Schilmiller was not who he said he was, or that she had been “catfished,” Brehmer allegedly said she was instructed by him to commit a murder and sexually assault two minors, one of whom was 8 or 9 years old, and another who was 15, the court documents said.
The FBI was unable to find evidence of the younger victim’s assault, and they have not found evidence that Cynthia was raped, as Schilmiller allegedly requested.
It’s all but impossible for Hoffman to not imagine his daughter’s last minutes on earth.
“I can’t get that picture of out my head,” he said.
Cynthia was so trusting, and so loyal to those she cared for, Hoffman said, “If someone was playing a game with her, she would believe the game until it went too far.
“I believe she thought it was a game until it went too far,” he continued.
In Hoffman’s version of what happened, it would’ve taken until the duct tape was placed around his daughter’s head for Cynthia to realize something was wrong.
“She yelled, 'I’m calling the police' and she turned around and…” the dad speculated.
Schilmiller, Brehmer, McIntosh, Leyland and the two unnamed juveniles were indicted Friday on murder and conspiracy charges, the Alaska Department of Law said.
Leyland allegedly lent Brehmer and McIntosh his car knowing what they planned to do because he believed he would receive $500,000 of the $9 million payout, officials said.
Schilmiller and Brehmer also face federal child pornography charges. Schilmiller is awaiting extradition to Alaska.
Like his daughter did her entire life, Hoffman is now driven by one goal. It’s propelled him forward ever since he received a knock on his door from a police officer delivering the news no parent should ever hear.
“All I want them to do is pay, and none of them better get out while I’m alive on this world,” he said.
Those accused of killing Cynthia should become accustomed to seeing her father often, Hoffman continued.
“I will be at every court hearing; I will be everywhere they are,” he said. “I want to make sure that judge throws the book at them. … That is my hope, to give them the full 99 years they deserve. I don’t think they should be in the public ever again. I think they have enough evil in them to do it again.”
To see his goal met, Hoffman said he will stop at nothing. He’s Cynthia’s voice now, and he plans to get loud.
“Cynthia had done nothing wrong. Cynthia was nothing but an awesome girl,” he said. “She just wanted friends and now she is dead.”