Crime & Courts

Family friend gives glimpse into lives of Florence shooting suspect, his family

A disabled Vietnam veteran, Fred Hopkins was a stay-at-home father, busy raising a large flock of children, according to a mother and daughter who say they were longtime family friends.

“He was a loving person. He was kind of odd,” said Judy Gibson, offering her own portrayal of the accused gunman and the family at the heart of Wednesday’s suburban shootout that killed a police officer. The shooting has rocked a rural S.C. town and is captivating national attention.

Six other law enforcement officers were wounded, and many questions were left unanswered about what happened inside the walls of the upscale, 6,000-square-foot home, neatly kept on the outside.

Fred Hopkins
Fred Hopkins Jr. of Florence, pictured in this screen shot from social media, is charged with one count of murder and six counts of attempted murder. from Facebook

Authorities answered some questions Friday, charging Frederick “Fred” Hopkins Jr., 74, the family’s patriarch, with murder in the death of a Florence police sergeant and six counts of attempted murder. His adopted son, Seth Hopkins, 28, was also charged with second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor.

Police arrived at the Hopkins’ home Wednesday to question Seth Hopkins about the alleged assault when Fred Hopkins ambushed them, according to investigators.

But few details emerged about the whereabouts or condition of the rest of the Hopkins family. At the time of the shooting, reports surfaced that the gunman had barricaded himself in a room with children.

State Rep. Terry Alexander, D-Florence, said the family’s matriarch and Fred Hopkins’ wife, Cheryl Hopkins, is a well-respected divorce attorney in town but did not have any details about the family.

The Hopkins home is owned by a trust that also owns the undeveloped lot next door, another home in the neighborhood and a house across town. Cheryl Hopkins is the contact for the trust, property records show.

Seth David Hopkins, 28, appears for a bond hearing Oct. 5, 2018. He is charged with criminal sexual conduct with a minor, second degree, while his father, Fred Hopkins Jr., is charged with one count of murder and six counts of attempted murder. Jason Lee

Judy Gibson said she and her daughter, Danielle Gibson, knew the Hopkins family well. Danielle Gibson was a receptionist who did odd jobs at the law office for 17 years. A housekeeper, Judy Gibson cleaned the family’s law office and home.

The Gibsons and Hopkins’ relationship tapered off about five years ago, when Danielle Gibson stopped working for the firm. But the mother and daughter continued to stop by the law office and the Ashton Drive home occasionally to say hello. The last time they stopped by was about a year ago.

Gibson said the Hopkinses were an insular couple who raised nine children together, all adopted when they were infants. Fred Hopkins has two older sons from his previous marriage. Both have worked in law enforcement.

“Danielle and I, we helped with those kids,” Gibson said of the nine children. “I watched those kids grow up. .”

“They called us ‘aunt,’ but they loved us like they were ours,” she said, adding she spent the most time with Kyle Hopkins, now 23 and serving time for second-degree burglary and forgery in a state corrections facility, according to his S.C. inmate record.

Vintage Place AP photo from Florence police shooting
Police patrol the area of a fatal shooting in Florence, S.C., Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018 Jeffrey S. Collins / AP

Media reports and the family’s social media pages give some insight into who they are.

Fred Hopkins was a practicing attorney, but was disbarred in 1984.

On social media, Hopkins boasted of his rifle-shooting prowess, describing himself as “a competitive marksman,” according to the Associated Press. He shared photos of himself with an M-14 rifle at a firing range “set up exactly like the one I used in Vietnam in 69-70.”

He was a New York native who moved to the Columbia area when he was a young man, according to a distant relative.

Hopkins survived “the ravages” of the Vietnam War, he said on Facebook, and court records show he was injured during his time overseas and received military disability.

The Associated Press reported that Fred Hopkins joined the military in 1966 and served 11 years, including in Vietnam. He was awarded the Bronze Star for defending a firebase against North Vietnamese forces, and also was decorated for excelling at marksmanship and sharpshooting, the AP reported.

On social media, Hopkins also describes a happy life with his children and his wife Cheryl, who he called his “true soulmate.”

According to Judy Gibson, Fred Hopkins was a stay-at-home dad, raising the children from the time they were babies. After he was disbarred, he also worked part-time for about five years for the U.S. Postal Service, the New York Times reported.

Rumors have been circulating that some of the children were fostered. A spokesperson for the S.C. Department of Social Services, which licenses foster parents, said “at the time of the incident, none of the children in the Hopkins home were in foster care.”

Asked whether the Hopkins had ever fostered children in their home, Social Services spokesperson Pam Bryant said, “As you are aware, the identity and status of licensed foster parents is confidential.”

Seth Hopkins has an interest in gaming, according to the content he posts of his Facebook page. In his profile, he also says he worked as a runner and doing odd jobs at his mother’s law firm and attended Florence-Darlington Technical College.

Fred and Seth Hopkins.jpg
Jail booking photos of Fred Hopkins and son Seth Hopkins following the police shooting in Florence, SC. Courtesy of Florence County Sheriff's Office

Reporter Cody Dulaney contributed.

Reach Self at (803)771-8658; @jamiemself