Four months after the shocking murder of Mike Compton, the town of Orting, Washington is divided.
Immediately after the killing, his friend Chris Hopfauf started a citizen’s patrol group. They call it “Compton’s Crew,” and they patrol the streets of Orting at all hours.
The town rallied behind Compton’s Crew at first. But, as the weeks ticked by, community members and city officials began wondering if Compton’s Crew was doing more harm than good. They began to hear stories of Hopfauf allegedly targeting teens and allegedly making false reports to police to bolster his case.
At this point, divided is the best way to describe Orting. In one corner, is a Compton’s Crew supporter.
“[Chris] is only out here doing the good and trying to help find a murderer and help reduce the crime in our town,” said Jami Moeller.
In the other corner, there’s someone ready to tell me why Compton’s Crew has ruined Orting.
“Now with four months of turmoil and bashing and finger pointing and everything else, it’s almost just out of control now,” Felicia Lariva said.
Moeller, who has had her house broken into three times, is a staunch supporter of Compton’s Crew.
“One they actually did breach our garage and the other one, they came through the back of our dog door and reached up and opened it while someone was home,” Moeller explained.
She showed me the marks left by the third break in. The burglars took a screwdriver to her front door lock and did so in broad daylight. They didn’t get in but left damage.
Moeller said she’s had, what she believes were, sparkler bombs go off in front of her house. She said whoever is doing this, and they suspect drug abusers, is terrorizing their neighborhood.
“A lot of people have become gun owners, a lot of people are scared, women are scared. There’s a lot of my neighbors, we’ve had group discussions that we’ve never had before and they’re scared and it’s never been that way,” Moeller said.
Compton’s Crew patrols have made her feel safer. But she admitted she didn’t know about the reports that Hopfauf had allegedly threatened teens with a bat or that he’d allegedly been making false reports.
She learned about that from an Orting City Councilmember and chair of the Public Safety Committee Barbara Ford.
“There have been people there that have been stirring the pot, and stirring the pot, and stirring the pot – and it’s gotten perverted,” said Ford.
Ford told the same story everyone tells: Mike Compton’s murder, at first, united the community. They believed citizen patrols would fix the problem. Then, as Compton’s Crew began watching the streets things turned sour.
“I don’t think that every view that Compton’s Crew has is bad. I think that they started out with the best of intentions with the greatest love for this community. But like I say, emotions have run high and a lot of factions have split off of every organized effort and now we have a lot of groups of people pointing fingers at each other,” said Ford.
Orting’s Mayor Joe Pestinger said he liked the idea of the community coming together and looking out for each other too, but that there’s a line.
“There apparently were some people that are giving Chris Hopfauf a bad time and that’s bad and sad at the same time. On the other hand, I’ve had people come to me and come to the City Council meeting saying ‘Hey, wait a minute, maybe this group is going a little bit overboard and are infringing on our rights,'” Pestinger said.
While Hopfauf sees an Orting run by drug houses and abusers stealing to get their next fix, Pestinger doesn’t think Orting has a problem with crime. Not even Mike’s murder – only the second in 15 years in Orting – can dampen his community spirit.
“I’m sure there won’t be another [murder] for the next 15 years. Just a feeling, of course. I can’t predict the future. But I feel very safe in the community. We live here locally, a block away from city hall, and I feel very fine living in this town,” said Pestinger.
I started to get the feeling that everyone involved would like to press pause. That things had gotten so out of control and divided the Orting they knew was no longer there.
Felicia Rivera reached out to me. She lives in Northeast Orting, a newer development that she said had an organized neighborhood patrol long before the murder.
Rivera said Hopfauf and Compton’s Crew have targeted her teenage children for just being “teens” and her friends said they’ve had similar experiences.
“I’ve stated that our teens are not mature enough to handle an adult calling them a rat and confronting them,” Rivera said.
There’s been name-calling online on those half dozen anti-Compton’s Crew Facebook pages. She showed me screenshots on her phone that Hopfauf has used her name on his Facebook page and she takes that as a threat, since the two have never met.
“Never heard of him, didn’t know who he was, so my concern is that now that summer is coming, I don’t mind, I didn’t used to mind my kids going to Safeway at 9 o’clock or 10 o’clock at night. But I have now, in the last three months, I’m not letting my kids go to town at all,” said Rivera.
Rivera said she’s tried to reach out to Hopfauf so that the two can sit down face-to-face, rather than behind a keyboard, to talk things out. She wants to try to start anew. She said she’s had no response.
I was only in Orting for 12 hours. But word of my presence spread fast and everyone had an angle to share. I began to feel Orting’s pain, because it is a beautiful community and you can tell: if a murder hadn’t occurred, that blissful ignorance of drug use and petty crime may have continued.
But, one man had had enough. Hopfauf said over and over that he won’t back down, “Yesterday, I had a good friend stop by I hadn’t seen him in quite a few years. I’ve known him since kindergarten and we’re talking about [Compton’s Crew] and I said, ‘Yeah, I can’t stop I can’t back down.’ And he said, ‘Oh but you can.’ I went, ‘Well, not really.’ And he said, ‘You can.’ I went, ‘Wow you’re right I can, but I won’t.'”
No backlash or even threats against his life will stop him. He frequently receives voicemails laden with expletives from blocked numbers in which they threaten to blow up his house or shoot him with fireworks when he steps out on his front porch.
The bottom line is that Hopfauf doesn’t want anyone else to end up like Mike Compton. He’ll be the first to admit he’s made mistakes in his efforts to form a comprehensive citizen patrol group. He said he’s learning from his mistakes.
He has a 6-year-old son who depends on it.
“When Sammy leaves my front door and I let go of his hand and he walks uptown for the first time by himself, I will know in my heart that I’ve done everything possible to make sure he’s not offered heroin or meth in the park. So ‘I’m in,'” Hopfauf said, borrowing a phrase from Seahawks fans. “I’m staying in.”
Every night, Chris fires up his Compton’s Crew truck and listens to one song, Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down.” He then heads out on patrol. Mike Compton’s killer is waiting to be found.
Listen to the entire Orting series on Colleen’s podcast, We Think.