Tallahassee police officials are on the defensive after the killing of a young Florida woman who was serving as a confidential narcotics and weapons informant in a sting operation that ended with her death.
The body of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman, 23, was found Friday in rural Taylor County, southeast of Tallahassee, after a two-day search that began when she decided to meet Deneilo Bradshaw, 23, and Andrea Green, 25, at a location that was not the agreed-upon spot for a staked-out drug and weapons buy.
Authorities were planning to arrest Bradshaw and Green after the pair unloaded 1,500 pills of ecstasy, crack cocaine and a gun to Hoffman, who agreed to work undercover for police in exchange for possible leniency in an April drug charge that came one year after she was involved in a marijuana bust.
Instead, Hoffman left the public park where the deal was supposed to occur and met Bradshaw and Green somewhere else, a choice that Tallahassee police spokesman David McCranie said made her vulnerable to attack.
"Safety is paramount," McCranie told ABC News. "The investigator said 'Don't do it.' We call these things off all the time. But Rachel went ahead and met Green and Bradshaw and that ultimately lead to her murder."
Tallahassee police were joined by the Florida State Department of Law Enforcement and sheriff's offices in four counties. They recovered her car about 30 miles south of Tallahassee and then, with tips from the community, tracked down Bradshaw and Green near Orlando.
The two were arrested without incident and charged with kidnapping and armed robbery. After interviews with investigators from Tallahassee, the pair reportedly led authorities to Hoffman's body. They remain behind bars at the Leon County Jail and are expected to face additional murder charges in Hoffman's death.
McCranie declined to say exactly when and how Hoffman was killed, citing the ongoing criminal investigation.
Hoffman, meanwhile, was buried this afternoon after a funeral service at a synagogue. In a family statement released to the media, she was described as a recent college graduate from Florida State University who planned to attend culinary school and lived her life by the words of the Beatles' song "All You Need Is Love."
But it has been descriptions of Hoffman by Tallahassee police, as well as a reluctance to answer certain questions, that have left her family heartbroken and have riled defense attorney Johnny Devine.
"We've been asking questions since the get-go as to what happened that night and the Tallahassee Police Department is trying to point the arrow in every other direction," he said. "They took a defensive step from the start."
Authorities began the process Friday of explaining how Hoffman became a police informant, a relationship initiated when police executed a search warrant at her apartment April 17 and recovered more than 200 grams of marijuana as well as ecstasy.
Hoffman was already part of a drug court program after a 2007 traffic stop in which police found enough marijuana to arrest her.
As police wrote up the probable cause affidavit, McCranie said, an officer offered Hoffman, whom he described as "very bright" and "very talented," a chance to potentially reduce the punishment for the new drug case against her by acting as an informant.
It's a deal, McCranie said, that's offered to "countless" drug defendants. "A lot of people say 'no,'" he added.