Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Public safety

Police informer buried, but questions linger

PALM HARBOR — Rachel Morningstar Hoffman was laid to rest Tuesday amid grief and questions about how and why she died.

Hoffman, 23, was killed last week while serving as a informer for the Tallahassee Police Department.

Police say she didn't follow proper protocol on a drug sting, agreeing to meet two suspects away from the spot where police told her to stay, and that led to her death.

But friends and relatives contend authorities put Hoffman at risk in the first place.

"The Tallahassee police are trying to slander her," said lifelong friend Cole Altner, 22, who spoke at the service. "They have a responsibility for her life and death."

More than 800 people attended the 23-year-old's "celebration of life" service at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Palm Harbor. In the synagogue's foyer, scores of pictures showed Hoffman's beaming smile as she hugged friends, posed as a child with Pippi Longstocking ponytails or snuggled with her cat Bentley.

Many spoke of Hoffman's soul-warming hugs.

Irv Hoffman found a magnet on his only daughter's refrigerator in her Tallahassee apartment. On it was a poem titled Be Alive. The poem encouraged people to think freely, smile often and learn from mistakes.

"She packed a lot of life in her 23 years," said Hoffman, who lives in Palm Harbor. "I wish I was more like her, celebrating life."

Margie Weiss wore the shirt her daughter bought for her as a Mother's Day gift. On the shirt was a huge heart. Her voice went in and out as she spoke because she lost it screaming when police told her last week that Rachel was missing.

"Close your eyes and imagine the love in your heart for Rachel," said Weiss, of Safety Harbor. "Her smile, her vitality and her love, let that light fill your heart and find the darkness of your pain."

A graduate of Countryside High School and Florida State University, Hoffman was in a pretrial drug diversion program for a February 2007 charge of marijuana possession and resisting arrest.

On April 17, Tallahassee police served a search warrant and found marijuana and ecstasy at her apartment.

In an effort to avoid more serious charges, Hoffman agreed to become an informer.

So the young woman who aspired to be a chef met Andrea J. Green, 25, and Deneilo R. Bradshaw, 23, on May 7 to buy 1,500 ecstasy pills, 2 ounces of cocaine or crack, and a gun. She had $12,000 to $15,000 in cash when she met the men, said her boyfriend, Ben Reeves.

Her body was found two days later in rural Taylor County.

Vince Breuning, 22, said he was stunned that Hoffman was asked to be involved with guns.

"Rachel, she was never into violence," said Breuning, who created a YouTube tribute to his slain friend. "It just doesn't make sense to send a girl like her to buy a gun."

Hoffman's death has prompted official questions into how the Tallahassee police handle undercover operatives.

"Rachel's family, as well as our community, has the right to understand what took place, and I resolve that we will address any questions in a thorough and appropriate manner," Tallahassee Mayor John Marks said in a prepared statement Tuesday.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said he has asked his inspector general to review the matter and stressed that his agency would review the "process" Tallahassee police use in working with informers, not the "case" involving Hoffman.

Meanwhile, at Curlew Hills Cemetery Tuesday, young men wept behind dark sunglasses as earth was laid upon Hoffman's mahogany casket. Friends and relatives hugged and cried.

And as Rabbi Gary Klein said Hoffman's spirit was now free, 23 white doves were released.

Staff writer Jennifer Liberto contributed to his report. Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or [email protected]

Comments
New Port Richey man faces sexual battery charge

New Port Richey man faces sexual battery charge

NEW PORT RICHEY — A 33-year-old man was arrested Monday on a charge of sexual battery, accused of assaulting a 10-year-old girl.Jonathan Wells was booked into the Pasco County jail, where he was being held Tuesday without bail.The assault took place ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
St. Petersburg power outage affects thousands

St. Petersburg power outage affects thousands

More than 2,000 Duke Energy customers are without power after a cluster of storms rolled through earlier this afternoon, according to Duke Energy.The area without power stretches along 62nd Avenue N from 12th Street N to 30th Way N, according to the ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Safety Harbor fire chief departs: ‘Take pride in the job’

Safety Harbor fire chief departs: ‘Take pride in the job’

SAFETY HARBOR — When Fire Chief Joe Accetta started working at the Safety Harbor Fire Department, Fire Station 53 was a double wide in the middle of a field now home to Mease Countryside Hospital.Now almost four decades of challenges and promotions l...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Deputies search for suspects in rapper XXXTentacion slaying

Deputies search for suspects in rapper XXXTentacion slaying

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — Deputies were searching for suspects Tuesday after troubled rapper-singer XXXTentacion was fatally shot in the driver’s seat of a luxury electric sports car. The 20-year-old rising star, who pronounced his stage name "Ex Ex Ex...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Lakeland father, girlfriend face charges in death of 6-year-old girl

Lakeland father, girlfriend face charges in death of 6-year-old girl

A Lakeland man and his girlfriend face charges of first-degree murder and aggravated manslaughter in the death of his 6-year-old daughter last week.Larry Lewis Golden Jr., 26, Breonna B. Wren, 21, were arrested Friday and are being held without bail ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Argument over dog leads to fatal shooting in Polk County

Argument over dog leads to fatal shooting in Polk County

A Fort Meade man was killed Monday night and two others were wounded after Polk County deputies say they approached a man while searching for a lost dog.The shooting occurred around 6:45 p.m. at the home of suspected shooter Charles Peddycoart, at 41...
Published: 06/19/18
Deadly Sunday for swimmers in bay area waters

Deadly Sunday for swimmers in bay area waters

Two people drowned and another suffered life-threatening injuries in the waters of Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.Investigators said all three cases appear to be accidents, but the incidents stand as a reminder that summer, with vacation ...
Published: 06/18/18
Pinellas deputies arrest Mississippi man 31 years after sexual battery

Pinellas deputies arrest Mississippi man 31 years after sexual battery

SEMINOLE — She was 22 when deputies said a man forced her at knifepoint into the woods off Seminole Boulevard and sexually battered her in February 1987.The case went cold, but now the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said it has arrested the man it ...
Published: 06/18/18
Tampa police seek driver who struck pedestrian and drove off

Tampa police seek driver who struck pedestrian and drove off

TAMPA — Police are seeking the public’s help in locating the driver who fatally struck a pedestrian on Sunday night and then drove off.The incident took place at 9:15 p.m. near the intersection of N Nebraska Avenue and E Linebaugh Avenue.No details a...
Published: 06/18/18
St. Petersburg teen, seven months pregnant, dies in Pasco crash

St. Petersburg teen, seven months pregnant, dies in Pasco crash

HUDSON — A 16-year-old St. Petersburg teen who was seven months pregnant was fatally injured in a crash Sunday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The incident took place at 9:11 p.m. on Little Road south of Hudson Avenue. The teen, Emily ...
Published: 06/18/18