Editor’s note: This story contains references to domestic violence. Information about domestic violence warning signs and resources for those in crisis is available at the end of this story.
When Danielle Hopton’s three best friends remember her, it’s the little moments that stick out.
For Emily Mulder, it’s the monster truck rally they went to together years ago with Hopton’s dad and brother. They weren’t really into monster trucks, so Mulder said they just walked around the arena goofing off.
“It’s little moments like that, that are just goofy and inside jokes and fun,” Mulder said. “That’s how I’ll always remember memories with her.”
Some big moments stick out for Mulder too, like their weekend trip to Denver a few years ago when they went to Water World and Elitch Gardens, and stayed in a hotel, where they swam in the pool and danced in the elevator.
Kaiya Anderson recalled middle school, when they all met. They would sit around playing group games on their phones together and take silly pictures of each other.
“Every single moment that you spent with her was perfect in it’s own way,” said Aislyn Papworth, who was also Hopton’s neighbor. “You can’t just pinpoint a specific thing because, I mean, we enjoyed every single second we got to spend with her.”
Hopton, 18, died Feb. 7 from injuries sustained in an assault late the night before, according to Fort Collins police. Hopton’s ex-boyfriend Stephen McNeil was arrested the same day and charged with first-degree murder and domestic violence, among other charges.
Mulder said when she read about McNeil’s arrest, she immediately texted Hopton to ask if she was OK.
Hopton never saw that text.
“I was just extremely concerned because I knew their history,” Mulder said.
She then texted Hopton’s mother, who called her and told her what happened.
“It was just crushing,” Anderson said, and she called Mulder and Papworth to tell them what happened after talking to Hopton’s mom. “… Danielle was such a beautiful person, such a light in all of our lives.”
The neighborhood has rallied around Hopton’s family to provide meals and other kinds of support, Papworth said.
Hopton loved animals and was particularly passionate about training guide dogs with her family. Papworth said Hopton worked hard to train them and was always so proud when they passed their training.
“(I’m) making sure that everything that I do and every decision that I make represent who she was and honor her,” Papworth said.
A GoFundMe page to raise money in Hopton’s honor for the Larimer Humane Society, Crossroads Safehouse and Guide Dogs for the Blind raised more than $37,000 as of Friday afternoon.
McNeil remains in Larimer County Jail with no bond. His next court appearance is scheduled for April 2 after attorneys asked the judge for more time to review the evidence in the case.
Teen dating violence ‘more common than people think’
Remembering Hopton is not only about honoring her memory, but also helping others in situations like hers, Mulder said.
“This isn’t something that should happen to anybody else,” Mulder said. “… This is something that should have been prevented.”
Teen dating violence is “more common than people think,” said Kari Clark of Alternatives to Violence in Loveland.
Girls and young women ages 16-24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, Clark said.
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and Clark said her nonprofit is continuing to try to educate Larimer County youths about signs of dating violence and resources for help.
According to data provided by Alternatives to Violence:
- 40% of teens said they wouldn’t know what to do if they witnessed dating abuse or sexual assault.
- 60% of teens know a victim of either dating violence or sexual assault.
- 46% of those who have known a victim of dating violence or sexual assault did not intervene.
Alternatives to Violence and Crossroads Safehouse in Fort Collins have programs through the school districts to educate students about dating violence, Clark said. But because of schools shifting to remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students are harder to reach.
“Less information is getting out there,” Clark said.
When abuse is reported, Clark said their team works closely with the school administration, school resource officers and the teen’s family to set up a safety plan. In instances where the abuser and the victim have classes together, the school can move the abuser to different classes to separate them, Clark said.
Clark worries that teens in abusive relationships won’t be as easily able to reach out for help while learning remotely.
“Having an SRO or trusted teacher (around helps),” Clark said. “It’s really a shame right now with COVID not having those people around.”
In abusive relationships between teens, Clark says they often see:
- Cyber stalking
- Controlling behavior, especially regarding a partner’s social media or cell phone use
- An abuser putting down their partner frequently in front of others
- Extreme jealousy
- Angry outbursts
- A victim isolating from their friends or family
“Information is power for abusers,” Clark said. “… It’s all about power and control.”
Clark said any sort of physical abuse — like grabbing an arm or punching in a moment of anger — is not OK, along with pressuring or forcing of sexual contact.
Family involvement is key to supporting a teen victim of dating violence, Clark said.
Families should respectfully monitor their children’s social media and cell phone use for red flags, Clark said. While children may not want to talk to their families, Clark said asking about their day and their friends and relationships can help families see warning signs.
Domestic violence warning signs
Domestic violence is a pattern of abuse that can include physical, sexual, emotional, verbal and financial elements where the abuser’s conscious or unconscious goal is to gain or maintain control. There are not always physical signs of abuse.
Girls and young women ages 16-24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence.
Early warning signs of an abusive partner include:
- Controlling behavior
- Guilt trips
- Explosive temper
- Mood swings
- Checking your cellphone or email without permission
Help for people in crisis
If you or someone you care about is in a domestic violence situation, call Crossroads Safehouse’s 24/7 helplines, which are staffed by trained advocates: 970-482-3502 or 888-541-7233 (toll free). You can also call Alternatives to Violence at 970-669-5150.
Other available resources for people in crisis include:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or call 911.
- SummitStone Crisis Stabilization Unit, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: summitstonehealth.org/services/
- UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital and Medical Center of the Rockies crisis centers: uchealth.org/services/behavioral-health/
All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in court. Arrests and charges are merely accusations by law enforcement until, and unless, a suspect is convicted of a crime.
Sady Swanson covers public safety, criminal justice, Larimer County government and more throughout Northern Colorado. You can send your story ideas to her at email@example.com or on Twitter at @sadyswan. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.