South Carolina

Officials: Florence shooting suspect knew police were coming to investigate sexual assault claim

Updated at 6:45 p.m. Friday

Florence County deputies arrived at Fred Hopkins’ home in an upscale neighborhood Wednesday to conduct a scheduled interview with Hopkins’ adult son.

Seth Hopkins, 28, had been accused of assaulting a child and deputies, with a search warrant in hand, wanted to speak with him.

But they never made it to the front door of the sprawling 6,500-square-foot home.

Lying in wait was Fred Hopkins with a high-powered rifle, allege law enforcement officials. The decorated Vietnam War veteran — who had boasted on social media of his shooting prowess —fired shots from the home’s second story, police and a state senator say.

Fred Hopkins Jr mugshot
Fred Hopkins Jr mugshot after being arrested and charged in connection with the Florence police shooting. Courtesy of Florence County Sheriff's Office

“They got out of the car, and they were shot before they got to the door,” said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott whose agency is leading the investigation. “These officers did absolutely nothing wrong. This was an ambush you can’t prevent.”

Florence police officers arrived on the scene to provide backup and were quickly targeted too in a fury of firepower rarely encountered by S.C. law enforcement.

A two-hour standoff ensued as the suspect barricaded himself in the home with an unknown number of children, leaving injured officers stranded outside. Police resorted to a bulletproof military vehicle to collect the wounded before Hopkins surrendered to a negotiator, according to police officials.

Terrence Carraway, 52, an officer with the Florence Police Department for nearly 31 years, died from his wounds. Three deputies and one city police officer remained in critical condition on Friday afternoon. Two other officers have been released from the hospital.

A memorial is placed in front of the First Baptist Church in Florence for Sgt. Terrence Carraway who was shot and killed during a standoff where six other police were injured on Wednesday evening . Oct. 4, 2018 Jason Lee

Seth Hopkins was also shot during the standoff, police said. He and father, Fred Hopkins, were both treated at area hospitals.

Left behind is a sprawling crime scene that will take seven to 10 days to process, Lott estimated, and more questions than answers in a deadly case that has caught national attention.

Friday afternoon, a judge charged Fred Hopkins with murder and six counts of attempted murder.

Seth Hopkins was charged with second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor. Police and state social workers described him as a threat to children and said more victims could be out there.

The two will be held at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Columbia.

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

Who is Fred Hopkins, the suspected shooter?

The shooting suspect is a New York native who moved to the Columbia area as a young man. He served in the Vietnam War and was injured during his time overseas, receiving military disability as a result, according to court filings, divorce records and those who know him.

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.

After returning home to South Carolina, Hopkins became a practicing attorney, but was disbarred in 1984.

On social media, Hopkins has boasted of his rifle-shooting prowess, describing himself as “a competitive marksman” and sharing 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.”

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

Hopkins and wife, Cheryl Hopkins, a Florence attorney, have several adopted children, including Seth Hopkins, according to family friends.

Hopkins was previously married and has two sons from that relationship. In an odd twist, both sons have worked in S.C. law enforcement.

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In recent years, Hopkins has had a few minor run-ins with police, including a 2014 charge of public disorderly conduct, according to court records. He was also charged in 2015 for not paying a court-ordered fine. A jury found him guilty of failing to pay up in 2017, records show.

Meredith Todd Taylor, who has lived in the Vintage Place neighborhood for 14 years, knows the Hopkins family and said neighbors have had trouble with some of the older children.

“I would describe them as a family out of control,” she said.

A Florence deputy said the victim of the alleged sexual conduct charge was a foster child in the home, WIS-TV reported. However, none of the children living in the Hopkins’ home were foster children, according to Pam Bryant, spokesperson for the S.C. Department of Social Services.

Judy Gibson, who said she was a longtime family friend, described the Hopkins as a loving family that includes nine children, all of whom were adopted.

“I loved those kids like they were our own,” Gibson said, who babysat the children and also cleaned the family’s home and law office. “Why this tragedy happened? I cannot answer that. I am still in shock.”

One witness’s account

Ann Dowdy lives near the entrance of the subdivision and was home around 4 p.m. Wednesday. She was preparing to return to work and took her dog, Max, for a walk.

“It was a normal day,” Dowdy said. “It was a more peaceful day than normal.”

She walked along Stockdown Drive, a few blocks from the Hopkins house. The area was quiet.

Around 4:30, she returned home and was getting into her car when a string of police cruisers sped down the street, she said.

Police officers yelled for her to get into the house, and Dowdy pulled her 14-year-old son inside. They watched the scene unfold through a window.

“It was just like, ‘Boom, boom, boom,’ all at one time. A flood of law enforcement over and over and over and over,” Dowdy said. “Then I saw ambulances. Then they brought the SWAT team in. Then they bought the armored vehicle in, and I knew it was seriously, seriously an issue.”

After 15 minutes, Dowdy said, she got a text message that said there was an active shooter in the neighborhood. Friends started to call to check on her safety.

Parents of other children in the subdivision called and asked if she could check on their families. But Dowdy was stuck in her own home as the standoff unfolded.

Dowdy said she didn’t hear any gunshots, but it only took minutes to learn several police had been shot.

“What is the world coming to? How can this happen in our backyard — literally in our backyard?” Dowdy said.

Nearby, the West Florence Fire Department received a call of an officer down around 4 p.m. They had no idea it would become seven officers shot and an active scene.

”You just hear a hail of bullets,” said Battalion Chief Dustin Fails, who was a few thousand feet from the shooting. “One of the guys described it as you could smell the gunpowder in the air. That’s how much shooting was going on. You knew something big was going on.”

Two other firefighters were in the “hot zone,” where the shooting put their lives at risk, according to Fails, who said they were six feet from one of the officers when he was shot and the firefighters retreated behind a truck. They were eventually evacuated by other police officers.

“Thank the Lord they were OK, but it just shows how fast this thing could go downhill,” said Fails, adding the firefighters were forced to wait to get to the patients.

Support for fallen officer

Support for the fallen officer continues to pour in from officials and police departments around the country.

Hundreds attended a candlelight vigil service at First Presbyterian Church in Florence Thursday night.

“He was just a loving person” said Cecil Bromell, pastor of Macedonia Missionary Methodist church where Carraway was a member.

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Both state and national officials have also shared condolences.

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster said in a Wednesday evening Tweet: “The selfless acts of bravery from the men and women in law enforcement is real, just like the power of prayer is real.” The governor added, “Peggy and I ask that you pray for them, pray for their recovery, pray for their families, and pray for all of Florence.”

And President Donal Trump tweeted: “We are forever grateful for what our Law Enforcement Officers do 24/7/365.”

Governor Henry McMaster visited with wounded police officers and their families at McLeod Hospital in Florence on Thursday afternoon. Seven law enforcement officers were shot, one fatally, during a standoff with police in a Florence neighborhood on Wednesday afternoon. Oct. 4, 2018 Jason Lee

Reporter Noah Feit contributed to this report.
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