19 year-old Natalie Bollinger vanished from her family’s home in Broomfield, Colorado, on December 28th 2017. A few weeks before her disappearance, Natalie wrote on her Facebook page about struggles she had been having with a stalker. She identified her stalker as a man named Shawn Schwartz, and wrote the following about him:
“I met this man when I was young, I ran into him about two years ago. Long story short, I became friends with him. I helped him out with rides and stuff. I moved to Virginia. He drove across the country to see me, slept behind my work for weeks. He’s sent e-mails for over a year close to everyday, harassing me. Making numerous different accounts until I block him again. Threatening my family, telling me he’ll kill himself in front of me, and sending my friends and family threatening messages as well.”
At the time this Facebook post was written, Natalie was living back in her hometown of Broomfield, Colorado. Once she went missing, suspicions immediately fell on her accused stalker, Shawn Schwartz. Schwartz continued to post on Facebook after Natalie’s disappearance, defending himself. Unfortunately, the following day, Natalie’s body was found on the side of the road in a wooded area near Adams County. Her death was classified as a homicide.
The suspicions against Schwartz only intensified after the discovery of Natalie’s body. However, throughout the investigation, it was discovered that Schwartz was not even in the same state as Natalie at the time of her death. Many still questioned if he was still somehow involved–and that maybe he had hired a hitman to kill Natalie. Still, by this point, police had officially cleared Schwartz of all suspicion.
Finally, on February 8th, 2018, a 22 year-old man named Joseph Lopez was arrested and charged with first degree murder in Natalie’s case. It turns out, Lopez was, in fact, a hitman–but Schwartz was not the one who put the hit on Natalie. Instead, Lopez told authorities that Natalie actually put the hit on herself. Lopez apparently responded to a Craigslist post entitled “I want to put a hit on myself,” that was created by Natalie on December 28th, 2017. Lopez and Natalie met for the first time later that day. The two drove around discussing how Natalie would pay Lopez for killing her, before he eventually shot her and left her on the side of the road where she was found the following day. An autopsy confirms that Natalie died of a gunshot wound to the head; however it was also noted that she had lethal amounts of heroin in her system at the time of her death as well.
In December 2018, Lopez pleaded guilty to the second degree murder of Natalie Bollinger. He allegedly agreed to this plea to avoid a sentence of life in prison. Lopez was initially charged with first-degree murder, but since he accepted the plea deal for the second-degree murder charge, he will likely spend up to 48 years in prison plus 5 years of probation.
Although Lopez allegedly responded to Natalie’s Craigslist ad titled “I want to put a hit on myself”, he claims that he tried to talk Natalie out of it after he picked her up. Lopez maintains that Natalie insisted on ending her life due to issues with her boyfriend. Lopez said that the two of them prayed together before he eventually followed through with shooting her once in the head. Afterwards, he fled the scene with the gun and Natalie’s purse.
Natalie’s family is reportedly unhappy with the plea deal and the proposed sentence. Natalie’s father told reporters, “we said no [to the plea deal] and they still offered it to him today. Our family does not agree with this or is willing to do any plea bargain. I’m dumbfounded. I’m so disappointed in the legal system in Adams County.”