Of Stalking, Craigslist and Social Media — The Case of Natalie Bollinger
Someone was stalking Natalie Bollinger.
She feared for her life and filed a restraining order, so when she went missing soon after, everyone immediately pointed the finger at the man who’d been following her: Shawn Schwartz.
Was everything as clear cut as it seemed? In the world of true crime intersecting with modern technology, Facebook seemed a proper gauge for who was the culprit.
Unfortunately, Natalie Bollinger’s case is as bizarre as it is complicated.
Bollinger, 19, was an avid user of Facebook, using the platform as a personal diary. She often posted about daily life in Colorado, which included documenting her turbulent history with Schwartz. Writing on her timeline that he was sleeping behind her workplace and constantly harassing both her and loved ones, Bollinger was terrified when she filed the court order that would legally separate them from interacting. She published this post as part of her public plea, according to CBS Denver:
“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.”
Then, on December 28, 2017, Bollinger vanished. As she had accumulated a minor following on Facebook, people instantaneously jumped to conclusions about Schwartz, urging the police to take action through their own digital investigations. A distraught, mentally ill individual, Schwartz went live on Facebook multiple times to convey his emotions on the accusations. He repeatedly told those who attended the streams that the focus should be on finding Natalie rather than pointing fingers. Upon news outlets catching wind of the case, they interviewed Schwartz, who disclosed his point of view. The man claimed that Bollinger was suicidal and suffering from substance abuse issues, insisting that he was only there to intervene on the multiple attempts she took at ending her life. He later provided screenshots of a conversation from 2016 in hopes of convincing people that they had once been friends before matters escalated. Numerous text messages between Natalie and an acquaintance as of 2017 painted a different picture, one that showed how fearful she was of Schwartz that said if she were to turn up dead, he was the person responsible.
Everything culminated when police discovered Bollinger’s body a day later, according to The Denver Channel. They concluded her cause of death was a homicide, later revealed to be a bullet through the back of the head accompanied by a potentially lethal dose of heroin. Although people on the internet were accusing Schwartz, the words had little foundation; he was not even in the same state as her when she was found. Nonetheless, he was harassed on social media for a crime that no one could successfully link him to. Police later cleared him of all suspicion.
Due to his deteriorating mental state, Schwartz was arrested on January 6, 2018 for unrelated charges of second-degree assault, obstructing a police officer and resisting arrest. During a welfare check initiated because of Schwartz’s online outbursts where he threatened to kill himself, the police were dispatched and then had to detain him for causing a scene. Telling everyone nearby that he was sad about “his friend” Bollinger being gone, he then proceeded to yell, kick and bite responding officers, according to CBS Denver 4.
Yet on February 8, the case took a drastic turn few could predict.
A man named Joseph Lopez, 23, was suddenly named the suspect, and his relationship to Bollinger was developed through a Craigslist ad she allegedly posted entitled “I want to put a hit on myself.” In fact, Bollinger was struggling with drugs and depression, information disclosed in an arrest affidavit reported by Insider. Friends noted she had a history of suicidal thoughts and the autopsy proved past usage of both meth and heroin. Lopez stated to police that he pretended to be a fake hitman and responded to her advertisement with the intentions of talking her out of ending her life. Although he claims that was his purpose, no one will ever know for sure what the dynamic was between Bollinger and Lopez outside of the over one hundred text messages they shared prior to meeting. He drove around with her for hours, refusing to call 911 or intervene otherwise. They prayed together after finding a spot by a dairy farm, and per what he declared was the victim’s request, Lopez shot her and took her belongings with him. Killed the same day she was reported missing, the firearm used was Bollinger’s boyfriend’s Glock 9 mm gun which had vanished along with Natalie. Theories remain that the advertisement never even existed, as the man gave conflicting testimonies to authorities, especially because he had not come forward prior.
Against the family’s wishes, Lopez received a plea deal to avoid a first degree murder charge, and instead was found guilty of second degree murder, according to The Denver Channel 7. He will serve 48 years in prison with five years of parole, avoiding a lifetime of incarceration.
“There’s no justice in this,” Ted Bollinger, Natalie’s father, said to The Denver Channel 7. Bollinger also called the plea deal an equivalent to if the courts were to “spit in my family’s face.”
On October 19, 2019, Natalie’s twin sister Alycia also went missing. She was later found and thanked the community for searching for her and said they “got me out of a really bad situation.” No further news was ever publicly disclosed on what had happened to Alycia, but the initial broadcast designed to find her revealed she has Natalie’s name tattooed in Hebrew on her right forearm as a tribute.
Schwartz maintains a contemptible relationship with the entire Bollinger family, stating that “Alycia belongs in prison” and condemns her relatives for suspecting him earlier. Despite his distaste and avid obsession, he did participate in the search for Alycia. He frequently posts on Facebook to this day, voicing his concerns over his treatment by police, the discrimination associated with him being a homeless man and personal reflections on mental health.
He’s never stopped talking about Natalie.
Since her death, Schwartz has made his icon on Facebook one of Bollinger’s last known photographs. While he had no hand in murdering her, he pursued her until she felt unsafe. Bollinger was afraid, constantly looking around corners and even involving law enforcement. She had notably published a written statement warning others about Schwartz before the Facebook page became an everlasting memorial.
Joseph Lopez preyed on that very fear when he escalated from reading an advertisement to murdering a young woman in cold blood.