Colorado teen’s ex-boyfriend accused of beating her to death in parking lot, police say

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The former boyfriend of a Colorado 18-year-old has been accused of beating her to death in an apartment complex parking lot earlier this month.

Stephen Darwin McNeil, 20, is charged with first-degree murder, according to Larimer County Jail records. McNeil is also charged with violation of a restraining order and violation of bail bond conditions from previous charges.

McNeil is accused of killing Danielle Elizabeth Hopton, of Fort Collins, the night of Feb. 6. He is being held without bond.

Danielle Hopton (18) has sadly passed away. We invite you to read the official, full obituary on Coloradoan and share...

Posted by The Coloradoan Obituaries on Monday, February 15, 2021

“Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of the victim,” Fort Collins police Lt. Jeremy Yonce said the day after the homicide. “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.”

Hopton was described on a GoFundMe page set up for her family as a “gorgeous, loving, kind and caring young woman.”

“She was always smiling and laughing,” Bo Street wrote on the fundraising page. “She was always asking how you are doing, and just genuinely cared about others.”

Hopton, who graduated from Fossil Ridge High School last spring, volunteered her time at the Larimer Humane Society from 2013 to 2017. She also helped her father raise guide dogs for the blind.

“Domestic violence happens all too frequently, and it affects people of all ages in many communities,” said Sgt. Heather Moore, head of the Fort Collins Police Department’s Crimes Against Persons Unit. “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.”

Police officials said that 911 dispatchers received a call Feb. 6 about an unconscious woman with injuries in the parking lot of the Whispering Pines Apartments. It was Hopton.

Hopton was rushed to UCHealth’s Medical Center of the Rockies, where she died of her injuries. The Larimer County Coroner’s Office ruled her death a homicide.

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“Through further investigation, detectives learned that a group of friends had been socializing that evening, including Hopton, Stephen McNeil, and Ian Rayas,” authorities said in a statement.

The group drove to the apartment complex, where they parked to “hang out.” At some point in the evening, Hopton and McNeil got out of the vehicles to talk.

An argument ensued, at which point Hopton was fatally injured, police officials said. McNeil fled and another member of the group called for help.

McNeil was taken into custody the following day. At the time of Hopton’s death, McNeil was out on bail following assault and harassment charges filed against him in December. The details of that case were not immediately available.

McNeil was not the only person arrested in connection with Hopton’s killing, authorities said.

“At the scene and throughout the investigation, Rayas repeatedly denied knowing either party and maintained that he had no information about what caused Hopton’s life-threatening injuries,” the police statement read. “After receiving evidence to the contrary, police arrested Rayas on Feb. 11.”

Rayas, 20, is charged with attempt to influence a public servant and accessory to a crime, both felonies. He was booked into the Latimer County Jail and has since been released on bond.

Anyone with information about Hopkins’ homicide who has not already spoken to police was asked to call Cpl. Tessa Jakobsson at 970-221-6575. Tipsters who wish to remain anonymous can also contact Crime Stoppers of Larimer County at 970-221-6868 or www.stopcriminals.org.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org. Volunteers are also available 24/7 to chat.

Calls are toll-free and confidential, and the hotline is available in more than 170 languages.

Street described Hopton as a selfless person.

“In speaking with the family, all money raised will be split equally between Guide Dogs for the Blind, (the) Larimer Animal Shelter and Crossroads Safehouse,” he wrote. “This is what Danielle would’ve wanted.”

As of Tuesday morning, the GoFundMe campaign had raised more than $32,000 for Hopton’s beloved causes.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Danielle Hopton, who volunteered with her family at Larimer Humane...

Posted by Larimer Humane Society on Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Crossroads Safehouse is a Fort Collins-area organization that provides services and support for individuals and families dealing with domestic abuse. Their services include emergency housing, advocacy, legal assistance and crisis intervention, according to Fort Collins police officials.

Pam Jones, interim executive director of Crossroads, told the Coloradoan that she and her staff are “deeply saddened” by Hopton’s death.

“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of the victim,” Jones said.

Hopton’s obituary described her as “beautiful, inside and out.”

“She was a quiet, kind and gentle soul, who always preferred listening to others rather than talking about herself,” the obituary stated. “She grew up participating in many activities and sports, like writing, traveling (especially to a warm beach), hiking, water and snow skiing, swimming, horseback riding, golfing, and playing tennis for Fossil Ridge High School.”

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Shortly before her death, the Front Range Community College student had decided she wanted to be an elementary school teacher like her mother.

Her family wrote that Hopton believed everyone should do their part to help society. They asked people to give their time or money to their local women’s shelter, animal shelter, guide dog organization or other “good cause you are passionate about.”

“You all make a difference. Each one of you. One person at a time,” the obituary stated.

Hopton cared about “every living creature,” according to her family.

“She thought she could change one person at a time to make the world a better place, but sadly, she was too naive to understand you cannot change every person,” they wrote.

Again, if you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org. Volunteers are also available 24/7 to chat.

Calls are toll-free and confidential, and the hotline is available in more than 170 languages.

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