PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Imagine your child goes missing and you’re 1,800 miles away. Then you get a call saying your child was found dead. That is the reality for one Portsmouth woman.
Only on 10 On Your Side, she tells Marielena Balouris about her daughter’s tragic death and how she’s hoping the community can help.
19-year-old Natalie Bollinger spent seven years of her life in Portsmouth.
She had recently moved to Colorado to be closer to some family. Her disappearance and death are still shocking and horrifying for her friends and family. Four months after her death, her mom is fighting for justice.
“I’m proud she was mine,” said Rose Self, Natalie Bollinger’s mother. She describes Natalie as caring and compassionate and says she had plans to become a nurse.
Self said, “All of the work that she had done and all of the plans she made and everything, she was about to get catapulted into all of that and she was super excited for her life.”
On December 28, 2017, that all changed with a phone call from Natalie’s boyfriend.
“He said that she was gone, her phone was there, her coat was there, her shoes were there, and that she was just gone,” Self said.
No one knew where she was, including Natalie’s father and twin sister who were both in Colorado.
“It’s a very powerless feeling, being 1,800 miles away and your child is missing and nobody knows where she’s at and you’re just hoping that she hooked up with some friends and you know, whatever, anything,” Self said. “And that’ll she’ll just pop up and nothing bad has happened.”
That’s when Rose got another call, this time from Natalie’s twin.
“Crying and saying that it was her and she was dead and someone killed her,” Self said. “I just crumbled.”
Investigators found Natalie’s body alongside a rural road north of Denver.
Rose flew to Colorado that day, desperately hoping it was a mistake, until the coroner called.
“I told her to go over every single tattoo on her body and I wanted to know. She told me the first one and I knew, which was the three-eyed cat on the nape of her neck,” Self said. “I felt like my soul had been, a piece of it, had been ripped from me.”
Investigators spent weeks piecing together the final moments of Natalie’s life, eventually charging Joseph Michael Lopez with first-degree murder.
“He had no right to take her life no matter what the circumstances were,” Self said.
According to court documents, Natalie allegedly posted a Craigslist ad asking to put a hit on herself. Investigators say Lopez responded to that ad and the two exchanged text messages for a few hours.
Lopez willingly spoke with investigators, telling them he picked Bollinger up, drove around and convinced her to not commit suicide.
The documents go on to say that Lopez changed his story when confronted with evidence, saying Natalie shot herself in the temple. But the autopsy shows Natalie died from a bullet to the back of the head, shot from a few feet away.
Lopez eventually confessed to detectives that he pulled the trigger.
“I don’t care what he says,” Self said. “He didn’t have a right, no matter what his reason was, no matter what.”
Court documents paint a disturbing picture of Lopez, whose first day in court is April 27.
“There aren’t words for how important it is for me to be there,” Self said.
That’s why friends and family have started “Flights to Fight for Natalie.” Money raised will pay for the family’s travel expenses to and from Colorado.
“I need to be there. I need … like I’ll walk,” Self said. “I’m her mother and I need to look at the face of the person who did this. I need to see justice served. I need to see this man pay for what he’s done to not only — and most importantly — my little girl, but he has devastated our family.”
Rose knows this will likely be a long battle.
“She’s 19. She’s beautiful, she had her whole life ahead of her and then you know, it was taken,” said Self.
But her focus is clear: justice for Natalie.
Self says they’re already raised enough money to cover their flights on the 27, but they’re expecting to make many more trips to Colorado. Any extra money will be donated to the Chesapeake SPCA. You can donate here or at Xenith Bank under “Flights to Fight for Natalie”.
Friends and family are hosting a Memorial Bike Ride at Bayside Harley Davidson on May 20th. Registration starts at 10:15 a.m. and the ride begins at 11 a.m..