Tuesday, April 24, 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]

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