Danielle Hopton’s family gives out ‘something positive’ out of ‘something so awful’

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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.

It was fitting that after a life of giving back, Danielle Hopton’s friends and family gathered Friday to continue that tradition in her memory. 

Her parents, Brent and Justine Hopton, and a trio of friends huddled outside of Larimer Humane Society — the last of two stops they made Friday morning to give out funds recently raised in her memory.

Danielle, 18, died from injuries sustained in an assault on Feb. 7. Police have since identified Danielle’s suspected killer as her former boyfriend.

Following news of her death, one of Danielle’s friends and former classmates at Fossil Ridge High School — 19-year-old Bo Street — said he was in shock.

“She was always asking how you were before talking about herself,” said Street, who said he knew Danielle from school but also through her brother, whom Street is friends with. 

When you’d see Danielle in the halls of their high school, she would always smile at you — “a full-face smile,” Street said. “She was just super sweet to everyone, and she really cared about people.”

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Wanting to buy some flowers and put together a care package for her family, Street said he posted his Venmo handle on one of his Snapchat stories. Donations poured in, racking up to more than $700 — all from people who knew Danielle or went to school with her at Fossil Ridge before she graduated last spring. 

Street decided to move the fundraiser to GoFundMe. Quickly, the crowdfunding campaign eclipsed its $20,000 goal, accumulating nearly $40,000 in total donations. 

On Friday, those donations were split in $15,000 increments between Larimer Humane Society and Guide Dogs for the Blind — organizations Danielle had previously volunteered for — and Crossroads Safehouse, a Fort Collins nonprofit that provides emergency safe housing and resources for victims of domestic violence.

Friends of Danielle Hopton gather with Larimer Humane Society staff Friday to hand over a $15,000 check in memory of the Fort Collins teen. Hopton was killed Feb. 7 in an attack perpetrated by her former boyfriend, according to police.

Larimer Humane Society plans to use some of its $15,000 donation to rename its Safehouse Safekeep program in Danielle’s memory, interim Larimer Humane Society CEO Kara Pappas said. The program, which started in February 2020 through a partnership with Crossroads Safehouse, provides free, temporary boarding for the pets of victims of domestic violence. 

“It’s heartwarming,” Danielle’s father, Brent Hopton, said Friday, after Street and two more of Danielle’s friends presented a check to the humane society. “A beautiful tribute to a beautiful young lady.” 

Brent said he hopes the donations made to all three organizations will inspire people to either volunteer for or donate to them. He also hopes Danielle’s story raises awareness around the issue of domestic violence.

“To me, the most important thing is just to save some other Danielles,” Brent said, his voice breaking. “There are so many great girls who get killed every year.”

Brent admits that neither he nor his wife and Danielle’s mother, Justine, truly knew how widespread domestic violence was before it changed their family forever. 

After Danielle was killed, Brent said he and Justine learned that statistically, a third of all women and girls will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime — often at the hands of an intimate partner. 

“I was never taught that in high school or college,” Brent said.

“It just all about education,” he added. “… I think (our situation) might have turned out differently if we knew as much about domestic violence then as we know now.” 

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After the donation was doled out and Brent and Justine had said goodbye to Danielle’s friends, the couple walked back to their car with Harmony, a 1-year-old yellow Lab in training to become a guide dog. 

Brent has trained a few guide dogs over the years, but now he puppy-sits for friends who still volunteer for Guide Dogs for the Blind. 

When he started with the program several years ago, however, he said Danielle was a huge help in training their first guide dog, Lepaw. 

Lepaw was a success and ultimately graduated to “college” — Guide Dogs for the Blind’s training school in Oregon.

When the family went to drop him off, Brent said everything was going great until they finally had to hand Lepaw over to the school.

“Danielle was so upset with me,” Brent said with a laugh. “She didn’t talk to me for two weeks.” 

From 2013 to 2017, Danielle spent her free time volunteering as a dog walker for Larimer Humane Society. Before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled in-person orientations, she had just signed up to start volunteering again, Justine said.

While that didn’t happen, Danielle’s contributions to the organization will continue after her death — with the renaming of its Safehouse Safekeep program and the possibility of a bench in Danielle’s memory, Pappas said. 

“Something positive’s got to come out of something so awful,” Brent added.

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
  • Threats
  • Intimidation
  • Isolation 
  • Jealousy
  • Name-calling
  • Manipulation
  • 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:

Erin Udell reports on news, culture, history and more for the Coloradoan. Contact her at ErinUdell@coloradoan.com. The only way she can keep doing what she does is with your support. If you subscribe, thank you. If not, sign up for a digital subscription to the Coloradoan today.