Crime & Courts

Indiana man sentenced to 99 years in prison for 2019 Thunderbird Falls murder

An Indiana man known as the mastermind behind an elaborate catfishing plot to murder an Anchorage teenager in 2019 was sentenced Thursday to spend 99 years in prison — the maximum punishment for his crime.

The sentence comes more than four years after 19-year-old Cynthia Hoffman’s death.

Darin Schilmiller, now 25, was present in Anchorage Superior Court throughout the three-day sentencing hearing that began Tuesday. Another defendant in the case, Denali Brehmer, also sat through two days of the hearing, although her sentencing isn’t expected until next month.

During Thursday’s hearing, Superior Court Judge Andrew Peterson described the case as “extremely sad and shocking” and noted that the murder has sent ripples throughout the community, forever altered the Hoffman family and deeply affected everyone who has worked on the case.

Schilmiller was a master manipulator who got a rush from killing and did it “for power, for control, for your fetishes,” Peterson said.

Schilmiller didn’t appear to show any emotion as the sentence was handed down Thursday afternoon. A family member of Hoffman’s listening to the proceeding on a phone line could be heard saying “amen.”

As Schilmiller was led out of the courtroom at the end of the hearing, Hoffman’s father told him, “I hope you rot in hell.”


Investigators said Schilmiller posed as a millionaire online and promised to pay $9 million to Brehmer, 18 at the time, to kill someone and take photos of it. They said Brehmer convinced four other teens to help kill Hoffman, whom family members say considered Brehmer her best friend.

The group told Hoffman they were going to Thunderbird Falls for a hike on June 2, 2019, and bound her with duct tape and fatally shot her, dumping her body in the Eklutna River, according to investigators.

A number of witnesses testified during this week’s hearing including police detectives, an FBI agent, Hoffman’s father, Brehmer’s biological mother, a teen who described how she was victimized by the duo, and a psychologist hired by the defense to evaluate Schilmiller’s IQ.

Schilmiller had been in an online relationship with Brehmer and portrayed himself as a handsome 20-year-old man named Tyler — using photos of someone else — who’d won the lottery, Assistant District Attorney Patrick McKay said during sentencing remarks on Thursday.

In reality, Schilmiller was living in his grandfather’s basement and spent most of his time playing video games and watching TV, his attorney Regan Williams wrote in a sentencing memorandum. Schilmiller functions at a low intellectual level and didn’t have a job or any money of his own, Williams wrote.

During his relationship with Brehmer, Schilmiller told her about his fetishes and urged her to act on them and send him photos or videos, an FBI agent said during this week’s hearing. Schilmiller was interested in child pornography, infants, raping and killing people, the agent said.

He also directed Brehmer to sexually assault a young teenager and send him photos and videos of it, according to federal charges filed against him and Brehmer in a separate case.

Brehmer was quickly connected to Hoffman’s murder through numerous sources who called police after seeing concerning photos or videos on Snapchat, or because Brehmer told them she was involved, according to multiple people who testified during the sentencing hearings this week.

Brehmer eventually led police to Hoffman’s body, a detective said in response to questions from McKay during this week’s hearing.

Both Brehmer and Schilmiller have admitted to their roles in Hoffman’s death.

During Thursday’s hearing, Timothy Hoffman described his daughter as a happy girl who had a developmental disability. She deeply loved her family and was focused on making friends, he said.

Timothy Hoffman said he and his wife have been unable to sleep since their daughter died. Their other four children are devastated by the loss, he said.

Williams had requested Schilmiller be sentenced to serve 50 years in prison, but Peterson agreed with McKay’s recommended sentence of 99 years and also ruled that Schilmiller will not be eligible for discretionary parole until he has served at least 45 years of that sentence.

Williams said in an interview after the hearing ended that his client looked at him and said, “I’ll be OK” as Peterson announced the sentence.

Williams read a letter written by Schilmiller to the court on Thursday in which he apologized for his actions and said he’s “felt horrible every day since the death of CeCe,” which was Hoffman’s nickname.

After the sentencing hearing ended Thursday, Timothy Hoffman said he’s pleased with the judge’s sentence, but wishes Schilmiller would never be eligible for parole.

He views Thursday’s hearing as the first step in closing the case, but is still waiting for the others involved to be sentenced. He has attended every court hearing since his daughter’s death.


“How can you forgive someone that takes the most important thing from you? And that’s my children, no matter how old they are — they’re my children,” he said.

Schilmiller pleaded guilty in August to soliciting Hoffman’s murder as part of a deal with prosecutors that resulted in the dismissal of first- and second-degree murder charges. Brehmer pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in February.

Defendant Caleb Leyland, 19 at the time of the murder, is scheduled for sentencing in June and proceedings against Kayden McIntosh, 16 at the time, are ongoing. Proceedings against the other two teens charged in the case are confidential because they took place in the juvenile justice system.

Brehmer and Schilmiller have both also pleaded guilty to federal charges related to child pornography. They’re scheduled to be sentenced in that case in February. They’ll serve whatever sentence the federal court imposes at the same time as they serve the state sentences, McKay said.

Brehmer is scheduled for sentencing on the murder charge Feb. 12. McKay requested a 99-year sentence and Brehmer’s attorney requested she be sentenced to serve 60.

Schilmiller was in custody at the Anchorage Correctional Complex as of Thursday afternoon.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter focusing on breaking news and public safety. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota. Contact her at