Duped by a man she met on the internet who lived nearly 4,000 miles away, an 18-year-old Alaska woman lured her best friend to a popular trailhead and carried out a murder-for-hire plot on the promise of millions, the authorities say.
The woman, Denali Brehmer, even took Snapchat photos and videos of the homicide as proof, according to court documents filed Friday.
Brehmer has been charged with first-degree and second-degree murder and a raft of other criminal counts in the slaying of Cynthia Hoffman, 19, who went for a hike June 2 on the outskirts of Anchorage, where she lived, but never returned.
Two days later, investigators recovered Hoffman’s body on a bank of the Eklutna River near Thunderbird Falls. She had been bound with duct tape and shot in the back of the head, the authorities said.
Six people have been arrested in the case, which officials described as a catfishing scheme. Catfishing is when a person uses a false identity online to lure someone into a relationship.
Brehmer, of Anchorage, started an online relationship with a man who said that his name was Tyler and that he was from Kansas. The man offered Brehmer at least $9 million to commit murder and take photos and video of the crime.
The accused mastermind of the twisted cross-country plot is Darin Schilmiller, a 21-year-old from New Salisbury, Indiana, who authorities said posed as “Tyler” and baited Brehmer into killing Hoffman.
Schilmiller also directed Brehmer to sexually assault two minors and send him videos of those crimes, officials said. They are expected to extradite Schilmiller to Alaska later this month.
Brehmer recruited Kayden McIntosh, 16; Caleb Leyland, 19; and two juveniles to participate in the planning and execution of the killing in return for money, the authorities said. The names of the other two suspects were withheld because of their ages.
McIntosh confessed to shooting Hoffman once in the back of the head with Brehmer’s gun, prosecutors said.
All six defendants have been charged with first-degree murder, among other counts, and have pleaded not guilty. Each murder charge alone carries a sentence of 99 years in prison upon conviction.
Authorities have warned that the case is a jarring reminder of the dangers of communicating with strangers online.
“I hope you rot in hell Brehmer,” Hoffman’s father, Timothy Hoffman Sr., said in a Facebook post Sunday.
Hoffman went by the name CeeCee and graduated from high school in 2018, despite struggling with her studies because of a learning disability, her father told KTUU, the Anchorage NBC affiliate.
Her father is a handyman and she was his apprentice. Since she disappeared, Hoffman’s father has shared his reactions publicly on Facebook.
“This is a poem I wrote is called nightmare in my head,” Hoffman posted Tuesday. “My daughter hung out with somebody she thought with her best friend and thought she was having fun. My daughter got convinced to be duck taped in my head. My daughter is calling my name in my head. My daughter is panicking in my head. They pulled the duct tape off some of her. In my head. My daughter said she’s gonna call the police in my head. My daughter turned around to grab her phone in my head. Why her back was turned she got shot through the head.”
When questioned by federal agents and the Indiana State Police, Schilmiller admitted to catfishing Brehmer, prosecutors said. The defendants selected Hoffman, who was “best friends” with Brehmer, to be their victim, court documents said.
Investigators connected Schilmiller to Brehmer through interviews with the defendants, cellphone records and online communications.
Schilmiller told investigators that Brehmer communicated with him throughout the killing, and sent him Snapchat photos and videos of Hoffman when she was tied up and after she was killed, court documents said.
“He admitted to convincing Brehmer that he was a millionaire and that he would pay her millions of dollars to kill Hoffman,” the documents said.
Video of one of the assaults Schilmiller directed Brehmer to carry out was recovered by investigators, prosecutors said.
Brehmer’s lawyer, Emily Cooper, an assistant public advocate, did not respond to a request for comment.
Attorney information for Schilmiller was not available.
Ben Muse, the lawyer for McIntosh, declined to comment Wednesday. McIntosh, who the authorities said admitted to shooting Hoffman, is being charged as an adult.
Claire DeWitte, the lawyer for Leyland and also an assistant public advocate, did not respond to a request for comment.
Hoffman’s funeral was June 13.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.