Girl Found Dead In Parking Lot, Her Ex-Boyfriend Later Gets Arrested

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A Colorado teen, who volunteered at an animal shelter, was socializing with friends in a parking lot when she became the target of a heinous act of violence. Local law enforcement has since issued a warning.

Whispering Pines Apartments complex (Photo Credit: Google Maps)

Danielle Hopton, an 18-year-old animal shelter volunteer, was socializing with a group of friends on a Saturday evening when she decided to drive to the parking lot of the Whispering Pines Apartments complex in Fort Collins, Colorado, to hang out. Sadly, what should have been a fun night with friends, tragically ended in murder.

Around 11 pm that night, Fort Collins police officers responded to a 911 call, reporting an unconscious, injured woman in the parking lot of the apartment complex. After reporting to the scene, cops found Danielle with “life-threatening injuries consistent with an assault.” She was taken to an area hospital, where she died from her injuries, Daily Mail reported.

Danielle Hopton
Danielle Hopton (Photo Credit: Legacy obituary)

The Larimer County Coroner’s Office ruled Danielle’s death a homicide and immediately began looking into the events that lead up to her death. According to witnesses, Danielle and her ex-boyfriend, 21-year-old Stephen McNeil, were socializing with friends when the former couple left the car to talk and reportedly got into an argument.

McNeil then allegedly assaulted Danielle before fleeing the scene, while one of the friends called 911. The day after Danielle was found beaten to death in the parking lot, McNeil was arrested for her murder. He was charged with first-degree murder, domestic violence, violation of a protection order, and violation of bail bond conditions and booked into the Larimer County Jail.

Stephen McNeil (Photo Credit: Larimer County Sheriff’s Office)

Another friend, identified as Ian Rayas, was also arrested. He was charged as an accessory to the crime after he denied knowing Danielle or what caused her injuries when he was interviewed by cops at the scene and through the investigation, despite evidence proving otherwise.

Calling her death a “heinous act of violence” that “took a woman’s life and forever changed the lives of her loved ones,” Fort Collins police Lt. Jeremy Yonce offered the departments “deepest condolences” to Danielle’s family and friends before vowing to “continue working diligently to support her family and seek justice,” according to Boston 25 News.

Ian Rayas (Photo Credit: Larimer County Sheriff’s Office)

According to Danielle’s obituary, the teen was “beautiful inside and out” and “a quiet, kind, and gentle soul, who always preferred listening to others, rather than talking about herself.” She was involved in sports, including hiking, water and snow skiing, swimming, horseback riding, golfing, and playing tennis for Fossil Ridge High School. In addition, she enjoyed writing and traveling.

Proving her kind, caring, and giving nature, Danielle Hopton volunteered with the Larimer Humane Society from 2013 to 2017 and helped her father Brent raise a few puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Just before her untimely death, she had recently decided she wanted to be an elementary school teacher like her mom Justine. Sadly, her caring nature came at a steep cost.

Danielle Hopton (Photo Credit: Family photo)

“Danielle always cared deeply about every living creature, especially those who are disadvantaged,” her obituary reads. “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.”

Sgt. Heather Moore, who leads the Crimes Against Persons Unit, has since used Danielle’s tragic death to encourage victims of abuse “to help end the cycle of violence” by reaching out to law enforcement and utilizing other community resources. “Domestic violence happens all too frequently, and it affects people of all ages in many communities,” Sgt. Moore said.

Danielle Hopton
Danielle Hopton (Photo Credit: GoFundMe)

Hopton’s family is also hoping Danielle’s death can make a difference. In addition to asking those who are interested in honoring Danielle to donate their time and money to animal shelters and Guide Dogs for the Blind, her family also requested support for abused women shelters.

The Hopton family organized a GoFundMe, raising money for Guide Dogs for the Blind, Larimer Animal Shelter, and the Crossroads Safehouse – a local organization that provides shelter and legal assistance for victims of domestic violence. Less than two weeks after her death, the GoFundMe had already raised over $35,000.

Danielle Hopton
Danielle Hopton (Photo Credit: Family photo)

Those who do not have the time or money to donate can still help make a difference by simply sharing Danielle’s story. This beautiful young woman’s life was tragically cut short because she believed her abuser could change. While many say that “everyone deserves a second chance,” they only deserve it if and when they know better. The sad reality, however, is that some criminals will never know or be any better.

Danielle learned this the hard way, but other women don’t have to meet the same fate. We hope her story motivates others who are in abusive situations to seek help and get away from their abuser — before it’s too late. If you or someone you love needs help, please call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.