FORT COLLINS, Co. -- Friends and family of a young mother found murdered in a Fort Collins lake last week gathered to say good-bye during a memorial service held Thursday evening.
Heather "Helena" Hoffman, 23, was killed on June 21, and police said at the time that they were treating her death as suspicious.
Hoffman had left work at a nearby McDonald’s around 1 a.m. that morning, but never made it home. A passerby at the park discovered her body floating in the lake later that day.
Fort Collins police announced Thursday morning they had arrested Jeffrey Scott Etheridge, 27, on a first-degree murder charge after finding evidence linking him to her death, and said sexual assault charges against Etheridge are also pending.
Denver7 spoke with Zach Denton, Hoffman’s ex-boyfriend and father of her 4-year-old daughter.
"She was a mother, she was a friend. She was an artist and just a good all-around person."
Denton met Hoffman online 7 years ago, and she moved from Virginia to be with him.
"Found out she was pregnant after two months of her being here, which is unexpected but we kind of went from there."
They had a daughter named Mary, but their relationship would soon sour and Hoffman moved to Denver, shortly after the little girl’s first birthday. Hoffman would float in and out of Mary's life, and was homeless for a period of time, according to Denton.
"She could've gone two, three weeks, maybe even a month without seeing her and the moment she came back it's like they hadn't missed a minute," said Denton.
Finally, Hoffman came back to Fort Collins and found a job working the night shift at a McDonald's restaurant.
"[To] pick things up you know pursue a career, get on her feet and self-sustain again and she was well on her way to it,” said Denton.
But the young mother would never make it back home after returning from work.
"[I was] angry; I was hurt. I was depressed. I mean, like I said we separated, but we were always friends, we always had that connection," said Denton.
Detectives believe Etheridge is responsible for her murder. Signs of foul play were found at the crime scene, but they don't believe the two knew each other.
"Can't say I could forgive him for it. I want to know why he did it and I want him to explain to me what made him feel he had the right to take my child's mother away," said Denton.
Etheridge is charged with first degree murder and sexual assault charges are pending, according to Fort Collins Police. Etheridge had a criminal record in Colorado. Detectives are working to figure out the motive behind the murder.