A Colorado man was sentenced to 48 years in prison after pleading guilty Monday to fatally shooting a woman he claimed had posted a Craigslist ad soliciting a hitman to kill her.
Joseph Lopez, 23, entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors, pleading guilty to second-degree murder in the death of 19-year-old Natalie Bollinger, who was killed by a single gunshot wound to the head on Dec. 29, 2017.
Lopez told investigators he shot Bollinger after responding to the ad in the singles section of Craigslist that was titled, “I want to put a hit on myself,” according to a statement from the Adams County District Attorney’s Office.
Though officials have never confirmed the ad existed, Chief Deputy District Attorney Ally Baber, at Lopez’ sentencing, referenced the alleged ad and Lopez’ failure to alert authorities, saying, “He didn’t respond as a human being. He responded as a predator.”
Baber told the court Lopez exchanged dozens of text message with Bollinger before he picked her up and killed her, according to the statement.
“He had hours and hours of opportunity to do the right thing and save her life, but he chose to murder her,” Baber explained.
According to an arrest affidavit previously obtained by PEOPLE, Lopez said that after spotting the alleged Craigslist ad in late December, he contacted the victim and pretended to be an experienced hired killer. Lopez said he agreed to meet with Bollinger and kill her after the two spoke via text.
He arranged to pick her up at her apartment on December 28, 2017. The affidavit states that Bollinger wanted to be killed “on her knees… executed from behind,” reads the affidavit. Lopez said Bollinger provided him with the gun he used to end her life. He claimed that he tried to change her mind, but she insisted.
At first, Lopez said he had a change of heart, and that he dropped Bollinger off at her apartment where she shot herself, according to the affidavit. But later, he confessed, telling investigators Bollinger “knelt down on the ground and that he knelt down along her left side and slightly in front of her.”
He told cops the two prayed before he pulled the trigger with his eyes closed. He left, grabbing the girl’s purse and the gun, the affidavit states.
Investigators say several people who knew Bollinger said she had expressed suicidal thoughts in the past. Others said she never would have ended her life, and that she was excited about the future.
Bollinger was reported missing days after receiving a protection order against a man she alleged was harassing her. She was found dead in a wooded area late last year. An autopsy also revealed she had a “potentially lethal level of heroin” in her system at the time of her death.
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The victim’s father spoke to local media, and was not pleased with the prosecution’s decision to enter into a plea agreement with prosecutors.
“There’s no justice in this,” Ted Bollinger told Denver7 before the sentencing. “And for Adams County to have enough evidence to convict him and then make him an offer is a spit in my family’s face.”
At the sentencing, he spoke directly to Lopez.
“You took advantage of my daughter,” Bollinger said. “She was vulnerable and drugged. Brutally shot and killed my baby. I asked for an eye for an eye. You have been protected. The Bollinger family had no say in this. This is a deal with the devil.”
Suicide Prevention: What to Know
Experts say some common warning signs of suicide include discussing a desire to die or feeling anxious or hopeless, like a burden, or trapped or in pain; withdrawing from others; extreme mood swings, including anger and recklessness; and abnormal sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too little).
Many suicides have multiple causes and are not triggered by one event, according to experts, who underline that suicidal crises can be overcome with help. Where mental illness is a factor, it can be treated.
Reaching out to those in need is a simple and effective preventative measure, experts say.
If you or someone you know is showing warning signs of suicide, consider contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK, texting the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or seeking help from a professional.