Sheriff says dangerous transients are flooding Larimer County

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Heather “Helena” Hoffman

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — After a homeless sex offender was arrested for the alleged rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman, the Larimer County sheriff urged members of the community to “band together and demand changes.”

Heather “Helena” Hoffmann’s body was found floating in Sheldon Lake in City Park about 6:10 p.m. on June 21.

“Absolutely inexcusable!” Sheriff Justin Smith wrote on Facebook. “She didn’t deserve that fate.”

Hoffmann worked at the McDonald’s restaurant at West Elizabeth Street and City Park Avenue, and was last seen leaving work at 1 a.m. June 21 when her shift ended.

Hoffmann lived near Shields Street and Laporte Avenue, and typically walked home from work, the Fort Collins Police Department said.

Jeffrey Etheridge, 27, was arrested Wednesday and booked into the Larimer County Jail on a charge of first-degree murder. Sexual assault charges were also pending, police said.

(Photo: Larimer County Sheriff’s Office)

Smith said Etheridge was a “newly arrived transient criminal” and a “convicted multi-state sexual offender.”

“Because of current laws and rulings, he was allowed to register as a transient sex offender — with no legal residence,” Smith wrote. “This is not the first murder in our community attributed to a transient, but it’s the most reprehensible.

“In fact, the records show many felony assaults, rapes and attempted murders committed by such transient criminals in recent years.

“It’s time for the community to band together and demand changes in public policy that will protect law abiding citizens from transient criminals like the one accused of raping and murdering Helena.

“I assure you, it’s no coincidence that our community, with a record low unemployment rate is overrun by intentionally unemployed transients, preying on community members like Helena.”

Smith said there has been an 85 percent to 90 percent increase in violent crime in the area over the past three years and the county jail population has increased 50 percent in that same time.

Nearly one in three inmates are homeless, transient or living in a shelter, Smith said.

“I personally see the tragedies brought forth by many of these dangerous drifters, travelers or transients across the county,” Smith wrote. “I see the records of their previous criminal convictions and it’s shocking!”

Smith said many of the transients charged with crimes are too dangerous or too high of a flight risk to be released while awaiting trial.

“We cannot allow this epidemic and these trends to continue,” the sheriff stated. “The time for talk is over — as a community, we must demand immediate action to prevent more tragedies, like the rape and murder of Helena from occurring again in our communities.

“I encourage you to organize with your neighbors, friends, civic groups and business associates and attend the next city council meeting and the next one and the one after that and demand the council take action to protect the community and stop surrendering to the transient advocates who show up, like clockwork, every time the local police attempt to crack down on the dangerous transients flooding our communities.

“Those who enable and encourage this dangerous behavior should be asked to pack up shop immediately.

“Please don’t wait until there is another Helena or another after that before you demand the kind of changes in policy that are needed to protect your community.”

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