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Crime & Courts

Federal child pornography case links Indiana man to slaying of 19-year-old in Alaska

The investigation into the killing of a 19-year-old Anchorage woman took on a new and disturbing dimension Tuesday when unsealed federal charges implicated one of the teenagers charged with her murder in a new child pornography case — and linked an Indiana man she was communicating with online to the killing.

Denali Brehmer, 18, at her arraignment in the Anchorage Correctional Center on Sunday, June 9, 2019. Brehmer has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Cynthia Hoffman, 19, in Thunderbird Falls last week. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Anchorage police said the Indiana man, Darin Schilmiller, 21, is now considered a “person of interest” in the killing of Cynthia Hoffman.

State prosecutors say Hoffman, a Service High School graduate, was taken to the Thunderbird Falls trailhead in Chugiak on June 2 by two Anchorage teenagers, Denali Brehmer and Kayden McIntosh. There, she was bound with duct tape, shot in the head and dumped in the Eklutna River, according to state charging documents.

Five teenagers have been charged in her death: Brehmer, 18, McIntosh, 16, Caleb Leyland, 19, and two minors who haven’t been identified. Police have said that the killing was planned and targeted Hoffman specifically.

Until Tuesday, there had been no hint of a motive.

On Tuesday the U.S. District Court unsealed a criminal complaint in a child pornography case against Schilmiller. Videos and text messages dated June 2 to June 4 implicated Brehmer in the sexual abuse of at least two girls, according to the charges. The victims were between the ages of 8 and 15, according to the charges.

It’s not clear whether Brehmer has been separately charged for the child pornography and sexual abuse described in the federal complaint. The investigation is “ongoing,” according to the office of the U.S. Attorney in Anchorage.

It was during the investigation into Hoffman’s death that investigators found child pornography “in plain sight” on Brehmer’s smartphone, according to the criminal complaint.

According to the complaint, Brehmer had been sending videos of the abuse to a person she believed was named “Tyler” who lived in Kansas.

She was actually sending them to Schilmiller, who repeatedly directed her to send pictures and videos of the abuse, the charges say. One of the messages included in the complaint references the slaying of Hoffman.

“I wish I never made a deal with you in the first place...” Schilmiller, posing as “Tyler,” wrote. “We can meet but once I see a cop I’m telling him or her that I made you rape people and killed cece.”

“Cece” was Cynthia Hoffman’s nickname.

What, if any, role Schilmiller may have played in the killing remains unclear. The charges don’t make clear what the “deal” referenced is, or add any other context to the statement.

Schilmiller was in the Floyd County Jail in southern Indiana as of Tuesday afternoon. He will be transferred to face the child pornography charges in Anchorage, said Chloe Martin, a spokeswoman for the office of the U.S. attorney here.

Many questions still remain about the role of the others charged with homicide, including McIntosh and Leyland.

But the newly released charges Tuesday offered a dark view inside an online world Brehmer and Schilmiller inhabited that crossed over into real world illegal behavior. It’s not clear if the two only knew each other on the internet.

Brehmer was known as “Angel” online according to the federal charges. Some of the other teenagers charged in Hoffman’s murder also knew her as Angel, according to court filings.

Denali Brehmer went by many different names online and in real life, said her 25-year-old biological half-sister Rebekah Langdon: Denali Brehmer, Dakota Brehmer, Dakota Smith, Angel.

Langdon, who lives in North Carolina, said she and her sisters were removed from their biological mother’s care in Anchorage because of abuse when they were young children. Brehmer was adopted and began to go by the name Dakota, she said. Brehmer attended Polaris K-12 school and later Service High School, according to yearbook records.

Brehmer had a baby but placed the newborn for adoption, Langdon said.

Hoffman and Brehmer met at Service High School, according to Hoffman’s younger sister Sydney Hoffman.

Hoffman graduated from Service in the spring of 2018 while also taking classes at King Tech High School, according to her father Timothy Hoffman. She then entered an Anchorage School District vocational and life skills transitional program for young people 18-21.

Posts from Hoffman’s Instagram account describe Brehmer as her best friend and show pictures of the two of them goofing off at a school dance.

“My bff,” Hoffman wrote on one post.

Langdon said she has been horrified by the murder charge against her half-sister.

“I can’t imagine what (the Hoffman) family is going through,” Langdon said. “That’s the only reason I chose to say anything in the first place. I want people to know we’re not all like this. We want justice for Cynthia.”

She said she was still processing the news about Brehmer’s involvement in the child pornography case.

“It still hasn’t fully hit me yet that this actually happened,” she said.

Daily News reporter Madeline McGee contributed to this story.




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