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When Florence police arrived at Frederick Hopkins Jr.’s home on Oct. 3 and walked into a deadly ambush, it wasn’t their first trip to the upscale brick home in the quiet Vintage Place neighborhood.
Between 2009 and 2018, police wrote more than 25 reports associated with the address, according to reports from the Florence County Sheriff’s Office.
The reports provide a look inside a household in turmoil where Fred Hopkins, 74, and his wife, Cheryl, headed a large family — seven children are mentioned in the reports, some of whom are said to be adopted. The couple routinely called police to track down stolen guns and corral out-of-control teenage children who they accused of theft, drug use and truancy. Other reports show Fred Hopkins, who told officers he had advanced cancer in 2014, also behaving violently.
On Oct. 3, police arrived at the home once again. This time, they were there to investigate the most serious accusation received to date.
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One of the Hopkins’ adult daughters had recently contacted the Florence County Sheriff’s Office after her pre-teen sister had confessed a terrible secret. Their brother, Seth Hopkins, 28, had been inappropriately touching the girl for the past three years, according to a police report.
The abuse was a pattern of behavior, the older sister explained to officers, including Florence County Deputy Farrah Turner, a former school resource officer who was now working as an investigator of crimes against children.
The older sister recounted to officers that “she had the same problem in the past with Seth” when she was younger and she did not want her little sister to suffer through the same trauma. While the older sister said she told her mother, Cheryl Hopkins, years ago about her own abuse, “all (Cheryl) did was yell at Seth and tell him not to do it again,” the woman claimed to police.
It was with this information in mind that Turner, 36, stepped out of a patrol car Oct. 3 at the Hopkins’ home, bent on interviewing older brother, Seth Hopkins, and searching the family home for evidence.
Unknown to her and the other officers, the elder Hopkins was lying in wait inside the home. A disabled Vietnam War marksman, he was armed with a high-power rifle and two pistols, according to police accounts of the crime.
Before Turner and the officers could reach the door, shots rang out as Fred Hopkins opened fire from a second-story window, say police. During the next two hours, more than 400 shots would fly between Hopkins and the officers. Two officers, Turner and Terrence Carraway, would be fatally shot by Hopkins and five other officers injured, according to police accounts.
Father, sons and firearms
The Oct. 3 shooting was not the first indication of Fred Hopkins’ violent tendencies.
Exactly five years earlier on Oct. 3, 2013, a Florence County worker drove to the Hopkins’ home to check on a reported ordinance violation. The report does not specify the type of violation.
Fred Hopkins stopped the worker in the driveway. Becoming “angry and hostile,” he grabbed the worker, “flipped (him) over onto his back” and jerked a camera off his wrist, according to a police report.
Fred Hopkins then handed the camera to his son, Seth, instructing him to go inside and delete the pictures. Seth complied, the police report said.
The worker reported the attack to Florence County Sheriff’s investigator, Sarah Miller. And Fred Hopkins was charged with assault and battery. Miller would be one of the officers injured during the Oct. 3 ambush.
Police also knew that Hopkins kept a large number of guns in the home. They got a look at his personal arsenal on April 23, 2010 when he called to report a burglary at the house, according to a Florence County Sheriff’s Office report.
Thirty guns were missing, worth $431,000, Fred Hopkins said, including multiple handguns, a World War II M1 rifle and a Bushmaster XM15 assault rifle, a type of firearm used in many of the mass shootings of recent years.
Several years later in 2018, more guns were stolen from the home. This time, it was “several antique firearms” taken by a teenage son in the Hopkins family, according to a police document that does not name the son.
The antiques represented only a small portion of Fred Hopkins’ collection. After the Oct. 3 fatal shooting, the FBI seized another 126 guns from the home, amazing law enforcement officials that more officers were not injured.
Fred Hopkins was a serious gun collector, according to family friends who have spoken with The State, who bragged online about his marksmanship.
In one Facebook post, he poses with an M-14 rifle , “set up exactly like the one I used in Vietnam in 69-70,” he wrote. And to celebrate his 70th birthday, he posted about “shooting competitively since 1984 and lovin’ it,” the AP reported.
On one occasion, he threatened gun violence against one of his children, according to a police report.
Fred Hopkins heard someone trying to break into his home and called police, according to a May 20, 2013 report.
When the authorities arrived, Hopkins said his son, Kyle Hopkins, was the culprit, shattering the front door before breaking a kitchen window in an attempt to get inside.
When the police caught up with Kyle, 18, he said he’d been kicked out of the home a month prior and that he wanted to get some belongings. But his father refused his entry.
“Mr. (Fred) Hopkins told him he would shoot him if he came into the residence,” the police report reads.
Threats, drug use and physical violence appear often in the police narratives. Those crimes often begin with son, Kyle Hopkins, who physically assaulted his mother, sister and a brother, according to a 2013 police report and threatened to “kill the whole family.”
The following year, Kyle was at the center of another fight in the home.
That’s when the elder Hopkins called police because Kyle, who had moved out, came into the family’s house and took a bottle of pills.
Kyle “is known to have a drug problem,” Fred Hopkins told police.
When the father attempted see if Kyle was stealing his prescription drugs, the son punched him in the face and chest. The two then fought on the ground, according to the report.
Seth Hopkins pulled his brother off his father. Kyle was arrested for assault and battery after Seth corroborated Fred Hopkin’s version of the story.
More blows would fly just two months later.
That’s when Kyle, then 19, assaulted his 13-year-old sister, grabbing her by the hair and punching her in the face after his mother questioned him about stealing her prescription pills, according to a 2014 report.
Kyle, now 23, is serving a 10-year prison sentence after a 2016 burglary, court records show. Tattooed across his chest are the names of his eight brothers and sisters and his parents. “Family First” reads a banner above the names.
Family problems extended beyond Kyle Hopkins, according to the reports:
- In 2017, one of the Hopkins’ sons forced his sister into his vehicle and drove to a dirt road in a neighboring county. He then reportedly beat her in the head. “You know you should have killed me, right?’” the sister asked her brother, according to her statement to police . “You’re right,’” he responded, leaving her “in the middle of nowhere,” according to the police officer who found her. She was taken to a hospital.
- Other teenage sons in the Hopkins family were reported by their parents for stealing money and prescription pills and were said to be using drugs. Another was constantly running away and causing “the family a lot of problems,” a report said. Fred Hopkins told police “they were tired of (the teenage son) not going to school and smoking marijuana.”
The Hopkins’ parents contacted the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice about their teenage sons. And in a 2018 report, after a teen son was said to have taken items from the house and sold them, Fred Hopkins told an officer he wanted the son arrested.
Police who were injured in the ambush were familiar with the family’s problem sons.
One of the officers involved with the case that sent Kyle to prison was Robert “Ben” Price, according to court records. Price would be on the scene Oct. 3 when Kyle’s father is alleged to have opened fire on other officers.
And four years before, when Kyle was charged for trespassing and disorderly conduct, it was Deputy Farrah Turner who arrested him, court records show. Turner died from wounds sustained during the Oct. 3 gun fight.
Both Fred and Seth Hopkins now sit in Columbia prison cells, awaiting trial in cases that have received national media attention.
The elder Hopkins is charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of Turner and Carraway and five counts of attempted murder in connection with other wounded officers. And Seth Hopkins is charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct, one dealing with a minor age 11 to 14 and another for a minor under 11 years old.
Florence police have likely made their final visit to the troubled Hopkins’ home, now boarded up.
In the final police report, Florence Sheriff’s Deputy Chad Collins wrote that he drove to the hospital after learning of the ambush.
“I was made aware that the incident had involved the residence location of 932 Ashton Drive …” Collins wrote, seeming to imply the address was well-known to officers.
The remainder of Collins’ report is three redacted pages of what he saw at the medical center.
“No further action by this deputy,” the report ends.