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Losing Rachel: Parents, friends agonize over Hoffman's death

dkoehn@tampatrib.com
Published:   |   Updated: July 9, 2013 at 07:04 PM

Rachel Morningstar Hoffman left Safety Harbor for Florida State University with the confidence that comes from knowing your parents have your back.

She was Margie and Irv's copper-haired wonder, the kind of girl who wrote thank-you notes, doted on her pets, fretted over the plight of homeless people.

She didn't just play the flute, she was first chair. A natural equestrian, a graceful ballerina, a force of nature at a ping-pong table, she had a nurturing soul that attracted bright and spunky friends. But her ever-present smile drew out the wallflowers and the friendless, too, welcoming them along to her dance.

Rachel lived to please - her pals, her rabbi, and, most of all, her adoring parents.

But she found herself in a dark place soon after graduation, a hitch in an otherwise promising life. Frustrated, desperate, she thought she had found a way out that would get her back on track and save her family from shame.

Rachel ended up alone on a dead-end street, a confidential drug informant for the Tallahassee police. She told her boyfriend it would be OK. She trusted them to have her back.

***

Surely the cops were pulling up behind her now. That cop, Ryan, had to be getting this through the wire in her purse. Cops, DEA dudes all over the place. Liza, with her video camera, somewhere.

But, God, where was everybody?

Now blood, running from the wounds in her side and her breast and her hands, her pianist's hands, which she held up as if they could somehow stop bullets.

The shots came from a Saturday night special, but they weren't coming quickly. The gun kept jamming, and the moment dragged on.

No sirens, no shouts, no running footsteps crunching in the gravel to save her. Just the deafening explosions from that gun. And the terrible, terrible pain. God, God was she going to die in this car in this place in this town? No help, no one, no one.

The shooter moved to the passenger-side window and aimed the gun at her head.

And in that moment, Rachel Hoffman, trying so hard to right her own wrongs and make her folks proud, did the only thing her parents could not overlook or help her overcome.

She left them forever.

A Leon County grand jury indicted Andrea Green, 27, and Deneilo Bradshaw, 24, on charges of first-degree murder in the shooting death of 23-year-old Rachel Morningstar Hoffman - Florida State graduate, budding chef, dancer, friend and occasional marijuana dealer.

When Bradshaw's trial begins Monday, the case will center on an attempt to use Rachel as a confidential informant in a May 2008 drug sting in Tallahassee. It was an operation that failed utterly; nineteen police officers and Drug Enforcement Administration agents somehow lost sight of her as she drove away with $13,000 to buy Ecstasy, cocaine and a stolen gun. She took a wrong turn in a woodsy area she did not know. Her wire went dead, her phone unanswered.

Going undercover is always risky, even for police officers with years of training. Not even they go it alone during drug deals.

But for the biggest drug bust anyone can remember in Tallahassee, cops chose a naïve, overly confident young woman, one for whom selling pot was a social thing, a way to please friends and draw them closer.

"She cried for help as she was shot and killed, and nobody was there to hear her," wrote the grand jury in its indictment of Green and Bradshaw.

"There is no doubt Andrea Green and Deneilo Bradshaw are the ones that brutally murdered Rachel Hoffman. But through poor planning and supervision, and a series of mistakes ... the Tallahassee Police Department handed Ms. Hoffman to Bradshaw and Green to rob and kill her as they saw fit."

Her death sparked protests against the use of confidential informants and impassioned debates about treating pot users as felons.

Some condemned the police while others answered that drug dealers get what they deserve. Rachel Facebook pages sprang up like the purple and yellow wildflowers that sprinkle this Panhandle town. Some sites were created by people who never knew her but adopted her sweet smile for their cause.

Her parents and friends successfully lobbied the Legislature to enact Rachel's Law, which set stricter guidelines for the use of informants.

But as the rallies disperse and trial dates are set, as the ink fades on the law that bears her name, Rachel's family and friends struggle with profound grief and biting anger that does not abate. They hold close the memories of a young woman, eager to love and be loved, driven to please.

This is the story of the girl who got lost.

An adventurous spirit

Lyndsay Cummings sometimes smooths out a beach towel under a tree beside Rachel's grave in Curlew Hills Memory Gardens in Palm Harbor, a stone's throw from Temple Ahavat Shalom where they met at age 7. Lyndsay thought Rachel looked just like Pippi Longstocking and was surprised such a bubbly kid was talking to her.

My daddy's picking me up, Rachel told Lyndsay. Me, too, Lyndsay said. Another divorced kid here. Yay!

Rachel always could spot the kid who needed a friend, a lifelong gift.

Divorce was all Rachel knew. Irv Hoffman and Margie Weiss separated when their only child was 14 months old. They vowed to put their animosities aside and moved 10 minutes apart so they could share time with their daughter.

Rachel was the best thing they had ever done.

We can't pick our parents, Rachel once told Lyndsay, but we can pick the traits that make us the apple of their eyes. For Rachel, that wouldn't prove difficult.

Every well-loved child is a vessel for her parents' dreams, but Rachel's natural talents and eager-to-please personality made it easier to traverse those two households, perfecting the traits that would bring pride to parents so different from each other.

With her cerebral father, a mental health counselor, she shared a love of art, classical music and travel that would take her to Israel, France, Italy, Greece. He was athletic, so she savored a chance to clean his clock in tennis; they would play until they were dripping with sweat and ready for ice cream.

Her sensual mother, a holistic nurse, encouraged her to nurture and care for friends, to hug with feeling, to love animals, and to approach life with a sense of humor and a sunny disposition. Her mother loved it that Rachel confided in her and asked her advice.

Irv and Margie schlepped her to ballet class, karate, piano lessons, softball games, Hebrew school. Who knew where her talents would lie? A passion for adventure, a willingness to try anything and a developing streak of independence seemed all-Rachel.

Rachel and Lyndsay formed a ragtag group of nerdy kids from Hebrew school who called themselves "the Jew Crew." In their early teen years, none of them wanted to be one of "those kids," the drinkers and heavy-duty druggies, but Lynds and Rach were curious about marijuana.

They researched it online; it seemed pretty safe. So they tried it for the first time on a Temple field trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., leading to a spew of giggles they couldn't hold in. By the ovens, no less. Very Rachel/Lyndsay.

Pot is OK, Rachel decided. It's from the earth. Nice people use it and they get happy and music sounds really good. Her friends liked it, too.

By the time she attended Countryside High School in Clearwater, Rachel was a pot smokin' girl.

Neither parent approved. In Rachel's senior year, during exam time, she was caught with marijuana on campus. Irv took away her Jetta, her baby, the car he had presented to her at age 16 with a bow on top.

Countryside administrators said she couldn't walk across the stage at graduation with her friends.

It was sad and humiliating for everybody; her folks always sat front row center for Rachel's band concerts and dance recitals. Graduation night, they all stayed home.

Setting out on her own

She put in time that summer at the Temple, and whooped when she got accepted to FSU. She just had to be a Seminole. It was the only place she had applied.

A tough call, though, for Dad. Irv worried that a flirtation with drugs could become a more serious problem when she was out of his sight.

Irv said OK, but with caveats: No car the first semester, and she had to let him test her for drugs.

Agreed.

Did she gripe to friends, calling her dad controlling? Sure she did.

But in a nostalgic, heartfelt and funny letter, left behind to be found by Irv after he dropped her off at her dorm freshman year, she wrote to him, her "hero."

"Even with my problems I've been through you've helped mold me into a good person.

"Dad, please don't worry about me, I'm a very smart, independent girl and I do have morals you've taught me which will not be left at home. Have faith, Old Man, I'll be just fine."

She told him to call her anytime, even right then, because she probably would be lonely and hoping to talk.

Irv and Margie called her every day, leaving messages if she was in class or out with friends.

Rachel continued to confide in her mother and even got along with her stepfather. Her friends asked Rachel if she knew how lucky she was. Their moms could be such a pain in the ass. Her stepdad even signed his notes ESD - Evil Stepdad. How cool.

Nevertheless, Rachel took the Old Man's path, choosing psychology as her college major. Although she loved Momma dearly, Dad's approval meant everything.

But she also chose to go back to pot. By then, Dad had returned her car keys and stopped checking her pee.

His worries were beginning to ease. Her grades were excellent, and she was knocking off credits at an impressive rate. As a child and family counselor, Irv had seen families weather far worse. Oh, Rachel - she might always be scattered, fun-loving and the first to try anything. But she was smart.

A gathering group of friends

On campus, Rachel found her crowd, a group of bright, attractive, funny and music-loving students. One day, she bumped into Cole Altner, an old friend from Hebrew school.

He remembered her well; he was her first kiss.

Cole met her in fifth grade, soon after moving to Palm Harbor from New York. She could tell he was having trouble adjusting.

That kiss came at her bat mitzvah, when Rachel wore braces, had trouble controlling the curls in her long, thick hair and hated her middle name, the hippie-dippy Morningstar. Years in the sun had dotted her face with, OMG, freckles. Her speech that day was on helping the homeless.

"I often try to think and remind myself how fortunate I am," she read to friends and family. Her parents beamed and she basked in their pride.

She and Cole made a pact. When they were really old, like 30 or 35, and if nobody else had asked them, they would marry each other.

Now, when he saw her on campus and all grown up, she was hot. Tall, with long red hair she ironed straight, a great body. Same smile, but more confident. Flirtatious, even.

Again, she introduced him to her friends, pulling him into her sunny orbit.

Once, when Cole was sick, she delivered homemade matzo ball soup and chased off students who were making noise and disturbing her patient.

Everybody was at least a little in love with her.

Andrea Motta and Rachel became inseparable from the time they met as sophomores. It annoyed Andrea to no end that Rachel could blow off studying and still make good grades.

Rachel whipped up big meals and then called her posse to eat - miso soup, Italian and Thai dishes, and salads made with veggies bought fresh from a favorite organic market. "Can she do everything?" her friends wondered. They were the best meals any of them remembered in Tallahassee.

Bob Nelson met her in their dorm freshman year and later shared an apartment with her and other students. Coming from Maryland, he knew no one on campus, and she made him feel welcome. She was like a little sister - albeit one with a strong will. She cooked elaborate meals but left the dirty dishes for somebody else.

When Irv or Margie visited, they joked they came away with empty wallets. Rachel could smile and dad would pick up the bill at her fave restaurants, and she could always lure him and his credit card into Abercrombie & Fitch. Margie stuffed her fridge and Irv left gift cards for Publix.

Rachel developed a taste for Coach purses, gourmet restaurants, reggae and jazz, and started signing her name with a drawing of a rising sun and a star, an embrace of her once-cursed middle name.

She roughed it outdoors, snuggling up in blankets with her friends at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park campgrounds. She and her friends would cram into somebody's car, toke up and head off for the weekend, not telling her parents where she was. Freedom!

Just about everybody smoked pot at the festivals. They were mellow, down-to-earth events in gorgeous venues, where strangers pitched tents side by side and shared bong hits.

She became known as the sexy chick in the tall, fuzzy, purple hat, rocking out on stage with Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk. Paul Levine, in charge of the event, teased his videographer because he kept zooming in on the pretty redhead.

Music was hugely important; Rachel volunteered to help promote DubConscious, an Atlanta-based group whose dub reggae sound she loved.

"She was an angel," says Adrian Zelski, who sings lead vocals and plays rhythm guitar.

Her apartment was decorated with posters of John Lennon, The Doors and photos of her grandparents.

As Rachel defined and refined her tastes, she also began to search out top-shelf marijuana, a much stronger weed than was around in her parents' day. Just as she aimed to please with her gourmet cooking and devotion to friends, she wanted to share the best dope she could find.

She began getting the good stuff, buying from a cool guy. She trusted him. She bought extra and began selling to her friends, making a little profit or scoring some free weed, a great arrangement for all of them.

It's just what you do in college, Cole says. For his generation, no big deal. Dealing pot isn't like shooting people up with heroin. It's college kids sharing, mostly. And people give it up or cut back when job interviews start and the real world comes knocking.

But Andrea and other friends became increasingly concerned about Rachel's pot dealing. They worried about her safety; she never locked her doors. The in-and-out of people in Rachel's apartment made it so uncomfortable for Andrea that she stopped going, instead inviting Rachel to her place.

Once, when Rachel was camping at a music festival, someone broke in to her apartment and carted off whatever could be sold, as well as whatever cash she had.

When Rachel and a friend were held up at gunpoint in a home invasion, she kept her cool and calmed her friend. Nothing she couldn't handle. She could talk her way out of anything.

Irv and Margie moved their daughter into a well-kept, gated complex. Her third-floor apartment would discourage random break-ins.

Always the first to get caught

Rachel's friends think Irv was in denial about her pot use. Irv always told her that if she used it, she of all people would be the one to get caught - she was just that guileless, trusting and impulsive.

Remember high school? Rachel and a friend were getting gas, and a police officer happened to be on the other side of the pump. The cop noticed an unopened six-pack, looked at little Rachel and called dad.

Irv and Rachel poured all the beer down the drain.

Another time, at college, she received a ticket for having an open container in her car.

Irv would shake his head. It was as if ever-oblivious Rachel had a neon arrow pointing her way: Guilty! This was a kid who couldn't find her socks in the morning. She was always going to get caught.

In February 2007, before graduation from FSU, Rachel was stopped for speeding, not for the first time. She was arrested when police found about 25 grams of marijuana in a glass Mason jar. She entered a pre-trial drug court intervention program that would clear her record if she managed to stay drug-free during random testing for one year.

Although people in drug court can live almost anywhere in the state, Rachel and her parents thought she was stuck in Tallahassee, even after her graduation. This time, though, she wore that cap and gown and flashed the thumbs-up sign to her proud parents.

She was desperate to begin her life away from FSU. Recently, she and Irv had driven to Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, where she had been accepted into a graduate program to become a mental health counselor.

But after touring the campus, she burst into tears. She no longer wanted to be a counselor. She wanted to be a chef! Could he forgive her?

What the heck? Irv wondered. OK. In this economy, it couldn't hurt to stay in school longer. She could always go back to grad school.

The culinary institute she liked was in Arizona. Her dad agreed to foot the bill. But first, she had to endure this last miserable year in Tallahassee to complete the drug program. Doable.

At first, her friends say, she stopped smoking pot.

But those who were used to coming to her place for a good buzz kept coming.

Rachel's friends found her desire to please one of her most endearing traits. She loved her friends. But she didn't always know who her true friends were.

That girl in the fuzzy, purple hat was more insecure than she ever let on, they say. When anyone told her she was beautiful, she rolled her eyes and said, yeah, right. She wasn't trying to fish for compliments. She really didn't see it.

Her choice of boyfriends could be bad; she might have a dozen men who wanted to date her, but she would choose the one who seemed to treat her poorly. Maybe, her friends now speculate, Rachel thought her friends would leave her if she no longer had the primo pot.

Rachel's life was starting to fray. Even though everybody knew it made no sense, she began smoking pot again.

Friends graduated and moved on; she was so sick of Tallahassee. She found ways to cheat on her drug tests. She slept until noon, watched the Food Network all day and went to her favorite bar at night, but told her parents she was working as a waitress, drug-free.

Irv thinks she continued using marijuana due to peer pressure and boredom. He wonders, too, if she was self-medicating, using the drug not just for fun now but to ease her pain.

She had her sights set on the date: April 21, 2008. That's when she would graduate from drug court and begin her real life.

Back home, a little more than a month before the program was to end, Cole's father died. Rachel's car was in the shop, but nothing was going to keep her from getting to Cole. He needed her. She rented a car. To hell with drug court. She would sit shiva with his family.

During that week, she missed a mandatory urine test. When she returned to Tallahassee, she was arrested and had to spend a weekend in jail. That was horrible enough. But worse: Even though she was this-close to finishing the drug court program, she had screwed up big. Forget about that April end date. Her Tallahassee sentence would continue, now with no end in sight. It was a devastating blow.

By April, someone had given up Rachel as a pot dealer to police. They followed up on a tip that neighbors smelled marijuana coming from her apartment. They smelled it, too; Rachel was stopped as she left her place. Yes, she said, there was marijuana in there, a few Ecstasy pills. Officers later said they were impressed with her honesty. Her friends call her honest to a fault.

Rachel was terrified of going to prison, thought she would die there. She told her friends the cops threatened her with 10 years - forever - for dealing, operating a drug house and owning drug paraphernalia. Was there anything she could do to get herself out of this mess?

And that is how Rachel became a confidential informant. She teased with the cops; they kidded back. They liked her. She showed off by using street lingo and adding numbers in her head, demonstrating her skill as a drug dealer. She was eager to help - not just to get herself out of a bind, but because she always wanted to please.

She would be an awesome C.I. Buy cocaine? Yeah, she could do that. A gun? Sure. Participate in the biggest drug deal these cops had ever done? Tell her where to sign.

But by every indication, this was one thing for which Rachel had no gift.

She told several friends about it, compromising the operation from the get-go. She thought it was kind of scary but a little exciting, too; she might even write a book about her adventures as a C.I. She liked the police officers she met. They cared about her and were really trying to help her get out of this bind.

When she programmed the number into her cell phone for Ryan Pender, the officer in charge of the operation, she gave him the nickname Pooh Bear.

Dad must not find out. When she confided in Mom, Margie told her absolutely not. Rachel agreed, but decided to do it anyway. A couple of hours, and bam, she would be done. No prison, no pee tests, no more wasted days.

She told her current boyfriend - a good one, for a change, her friends say - that she would probably be robbed by the two men she was going to meet. It scared him, but she seemed so confident. Besides, one of her best friends would be in the area with a video camera to record it all, just a text message away.

Rachel didn't know the guys; they sure didn't run with her crowd. But she knew the police would close in immediately no matter what. Ryan wouldn't let anything happen to her.

She and a fleet of lawmen left police headquarters during rush hour. The suspects kept changing the location. Only one of the officers had heard of Gardner Road, where she ended up.

By the time they found it, only one of her black flip-flops, two live pistol rounds and a spent shell casing remained.

Bradshaw and Green were tracked down and arrested, and 36 hours after police lost her, led officers to where her body had been dumped in a rural area of Taylor County.

In the aftermath, Pender was fired and four senior officers suspended for two weeks without pay. Pender's appeal will be heard Dec. 14. His attorney, Paul Villeneuve, says the whole story hasn't come out yet and his client has been made a scapegoat while higher-ups skated.

About 800 people attended Rachel's services. When the rabbi asked for volunteer pallbearers, half the temple rose, a smile-evoking moment in a terrible, terrible day.

Some of Rachel's friends went into rehab after her death; others left town, chased away by a fear of the cops and the pain of their loss. Now, a year and a half later, they remain deeply troubled. They feel guilty. Could they have stopped her?

They keep expecting to see Rachel come through the door, smiling that big Rachel smile.

Some of them post to a Web site, administered by Margie, that asks "Where's Rachel?" Her friends see her in double rainbows and blue-green dragonflies, and believe she helps them out of predicaments still.

Her mother often signs on to Rachel's Facebook page, a strange memento. There she can read old messages, back before May 7, 2008, mostly quick notes from good friends telling each other where to meet, when to leave, who is going.

In the hours when Rachel went missing and friends clustered together at her apartment, waiting for word, the messages become frantic: "Come home, baby. Love you. It's okay, you can get out of anything. Please, please be okay. Love you."

Then, after her death, an outpouring of grief and tributes.

But to this day, her friends continue to write to the woman they called their social glue, their Ginger Girl. They tell her they just got a whiff of sage or marinara and thought of her. They describe how they feel visiting "her spot," though none of them call it a grave. They update her on how Irv and Margie are doing.

Sometimes they ask her to visit them in their dreams at night. They thank her when she does.

A mother who sees her in butterflies

Margie Weiss wants you to understand that Rachel isn't really gone.

Her daughter's body may rest below the ground, but Margie recognizes her presence in goose bumps that prickle her skin when she knows Rachel is amused or happy about something.

As Margie soothes clients' tense muscles in her Family Massage Center in Safety Harbor, watched over by a large photo of her daughter, she knows Rachel is there, helping her do her job better.

Sometimes at night, when Margie sits up until the wee hours, unable to sleep, playing computer games or writing to Rachel's friends on Facebook, she feels as if she is channeling her daughter. If she is reincarnated, she wants to come back as Rachel.

In those frightening and angry days after her daughter's death, Margie became Momma to Rachel's many friends. She nurtured them as Rachel would have done. They gave her a giant Mother's Day card and slept all over the floor of her condo the night of the funeral. They still tell her they ? her in Facebook messages.

Margie sees signs of Rachel everywhere. A stormy day? Rachel will make it stop when Margie needs it to. A balloon that blows out of the car? That's Rachel, picking out the one she wanted. That double rainbow? Those yellow butterflies? Rachel saying hi.

Once, Margie noticed a black butterfly when some of Rachel's flowers had wilted on her grave. In a dream, Rachel appeared and said, "Helllllllo! Mom! Black equals death? Get it? Do better on my flowers!"

Margie's laugh is musical. She knows Rachel rolls her eyes and giggles when she and her ex-husband rearrange her grave ornaments to suit themselves, shifting each other's tchotchkes around.

"Helllllo, Rachel!" she shouts into a dark hole left when she removes the vase on her daughter's tombstone to put in fresh water.

For a while, Margie nursed an awake-dream that Rachel wasn't really dead. She imagined her in the witness protection program, spirited away by a helicopter from the scene of the drug bust gone awry. It was a closed casket. Maybe she would see her daughter's blazing hair outshining the red carpet at the Emmy Awards someday.

Margie is intelligent; she knows about denial. But talking to Rachel, sensing Rachel, feeling Rachel's spirit keeps her going.

That first year went by in a daze. She supported Rachel's friends while her husband of 10 years, Mike Weiss, supported her. She was hoarse as she spoke at Rachel's funeral, because she had screamed and screamed and screamed as she made that interminable drive to Tallahassee, summoned by police who told her Rachel was missing and it didn't look good.

She learned her only daughter had been involved in a botched drug sting from a police spokesman on TV while waiting in her daughter's apartment. She drew Rachel's Tallahassee friends near, all of them furious, terrified, hopeful, disbelieving.

When she was told by her rabbi that Rachel had been shot to death, her body found dumped in a rural area in another county, something disconnected. Sometimes it still feels that way. Reality gets through for a moment, but Margie panics and spins away from it. She must. Rachel was her one and only. Her favorite person in the whole world.

That first year, Margie paid little attention to her health or her weight or her bills.

The real world receded.

She appeared on TV, wide-eyed but calm, to campaign with her ex for Rachel's Law. They wanted to establish rules for police on using confidential informants.

Although her attorney offered to put her up at a nice hotel while she lobbied legislators, she preferred to stay with Rachel's friends.

A video of Rachel dancing onstage at an outdoor festival wearing a beret got wide play in the media. So Margie and her new friends donned purple hats and swooped into the capital. Her attorney advised her to take off hers, a sparkly, purple-sequined beret.

Rachel's original hat remains in her bloodied car, evidence in a police compound.

But we won't think about that right now.

Margie rocks with Rachel's friends at the annual Purple Hatters Ball, held in Rachel's honor at an outdoor festival in Quincy to benefit her Rachel Morningstar Foundation. She moves so much like Rachel, it freaks out some of the kids.

Margie tossed more than 400 purple hats into the crowd the first year, and watched with joy as dancing young people created a sea of bobbing purple. This month, she again donned the purple hat and spoke about Rachel to new faces at the Purple Hat Tent at the Bear Creek Festival in Live Oak.

The proud momma talks about Rachel all the time, to her friends, to her co-workers, to her clients. She shows them the shrine in her massage room, the memorial garden she created outside her building. Some of her clients stopped coming in.

Margie has started seeing a chiropractor, an acupuncturist and a therapist. She is not feeling well physically. Even with a daughter who has died, bills keep coming.

She plans to attend every day when testimony begins in Deneilo Bradshaw's trial. She again hopes to bunk in with Rachel's friends, although that's getting more difficult to do. So many of them have moved away from Tallahassee now, heading for graduate school or jobs.

She knows she'll hear some difficult things in court, maybe some bad details she didn't know.

She can think about that later. When the time comes, she knows God - and Rachel - will be there to help get her through.

A father who guards her grave

Every day, twice if he can outrace the sunset, Irv Hoffman sits by his daughter's grave.

He has cut back from the five or six hours a day he spent there after she was first buried.

He props up a beach chair; he's gone through three so far. He brings a book and fresh flowers - purple, her favorite. He waves to the others who visit loved ones every day. He calls them his support group, the people who best understand.

When one of them showed him how to clean Rachel's gravestone with furniture polish, Irv started buffing up her spot. When that man died, Irv started cleaning his headstone, as well as that of the man's wife.

The groundskeeper tosses him bottles of cold water.

The grassy spot where Irv sits is where he will be buried someday.

When no one is within earshot, he talks to Rachel. Tells her about that law they got passed. Shares stories. Apologizes.

As a mental health counselor, Irv knows this is not the best way to get on with his life. But he just can't bear the thought of leaving his daughter there alone.

Lance Block, his attorney and a man who specializes in cases involving the loss of a loved one, calls Irv Hoffman the saddest man he has ever seen.

The son of Auschwitz survivors, Irv feels a deep sense of devotion to and love of family. Rachel was his only child. When Irv's father died, Rachel wrote her grandmother a note, telling her to call if she ever got lonely.

Irv saved Rachel's baby clothes so his grandchild could wear them someday.

He calls himself heartbroken. He can use the word angry, but it seems inadequate, pale.

She was, simply, his life. After his divorce from Rachel's mother, he never remarried. He rarely dates. Vacations were shared with Rachel in Arizona, Miami, the Florida Keys. He bought her a baby grand piano, stocked her bedroom with her favorite videos, gifted her with artwork he knew she would love.

He was successful in his work, so Rachel wanted for little.

He smiled when she came home from Florida State University and bee-lined for the piano to exorcise her worries over exams or boyfriends. He wanted to stamp out all of life's bumps for her. It's so hard to let a daughter go.

He had no idea he could cry so much.

After her death, he started going to a grocery store in Oldsmar, just to avoid getting blindsided by anyone he knew at his neighborhood Publix. One simple, well-meaning, "How are you?" would start the waterworks. Embarrassing.

He asked people at his workplace not to ask. He keeps handkerchiefs in his pockets at all times. Best invention ever.

Work has been a balm for him otherwise, a place where he can submerge himself in helping his clients with their problems while, for the moment, forgetting his own.

That first crazy year after Rachel died, he kept buying vitamins. Big bottles. Finally he stopped when he realized he had bought $3,000 worth and they filled his cabinet. He laughs at himself, a wry, self-deprecating wit peeking through his misery.

Irv hammered out the details of Rachel's Law during those fitful, sleepless nights, those nights when he can't stop himself from reliving the final, terror-filled moments of his daughter's life. Irv couldn't save Rachel or protect her as a father is supposed to. So he would protect other men's children.

Weekends were spent in Tallahassee, lobbying for Rachel's Law. A private man, he sat down with his ex-wife for interviews on "20/20" and "Dateline." His daughter's plight became a national news story. He grimaced at the media's facile description of her as a party girl, a hippie chick. She was so much more.

On May 7, the one-year anniversary of her death, her parents watched Gov. Charlie Crist sign the law that would offer some protection for confidential informants.

Law enforcement agencies now must train officers who recruit C.I.s. No longer can informants be promised reduced sentences in exchange for their work, and they must be allowed to talk to a lawyer if they ask.

Irv and Margie wanted it stronger, barring the use of people in substance-abuse programs and prohibiting nonviolent offenders from working with suspects with violent pasts. Both provisions would have saved his daughter.

He started a college scholarship program in Rachel's name, $10,000 per year for needy families at his temple. He also plans to give away Apple computers, his daughter's favorite, to worthy students.

Irv will be in the courtroom when Deneilo Bradshaw's trial begins. His attorney suggested he stay away because of the anguish this will cause, but Irv is resolute. He will attend both trials.

He also waits on his civil suit brought against the city of Tallahassee.

Rachel once told a friend she worried about the Old Man. If something ever happened to her, she feared he wouldn't be able to take it.

Sometimes, he, too, wonders how he will.

He had planned to move near his mother in her final years, after Rachel had finished college and established what he knew would be a stellar life.

But, for now, he can't leave his daughter all alone out there.

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