Donny Hopkins, a 32-year-old Yorba Linda man, was awarded $5,000 on Wednesday by the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs for his help in capturing the alleged serial killer who targeted homeless men.
Union president Tom Dominguez presented Hopkins with the reward money at a news conference near where 64-year-old transient John Berry was killed by suspected serial killer 23-year-old Iraq war veteran Itzoatl Ocampo.
Hopkins has been hailed as heroic and brave by friends and family members.
"I don't feel like a hero because John Berry died that night. Seeing a man die and it happened to be somebody I've seen before has been extremely difficult. A hero is supposed to feel good after they do something; this is something hard to feel good about," Hopkins said.
Hopkins, married father of two, saw the alleged serial killer violently stab Berry to death outside of a CVS.
Hopkins said he was waiting in line to buy his wife cigarettes when a man came into the store shouting that "the serial killer was killing someone outside."
Hopkins said he saw Berry talking to a friend before he entered CVS. When the man came in yelling, according to Hopkins, he knew immediately it was Berry and dropped everything to run outside.
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Hopkins witnessed Berry's stabbing and said he shouted at the man to "stop." He then pursued the suspect by foot for a quarter of a mile into a mobile home park where Hopkins lived with his family, eventually leading police to the capture of Ocampo.
The $5,000 award was offered to Hopkins in conjunction with another $5,000 award presented by the deputies' union and Anaheim Police Officers Association to Mercy House, which provides shelter and other services to the homeless.
"We watch the news like everybody else. Orange County is our community. Our deputies have sworn to protect our citizens. It was in everybody's best interest to capture this guy and prevent anyone else from being killed. We thought an award was appropriate," said Kimberly Edds, director of communications and public affairs at the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.
The suspected serial killer is being charged in a string of fatal stabbings that began just before Christmas on Dec. 20.
Dominguez wanted to honor a member of our community for something like this, Edds said.
The first victim, 53-year-old transient James McGillivray, was attacked as he slept outside a Placentia shopping center.
Eight days later, the body of 53-year-old Lloyd Middaugh was found on Anaheim's Santa Ana river trail; on Dec. 30, Paulus Cornelius Smit was found dead behind a Yorba Linda Library; and on Jan. 13, Berry's murder was witnessed by Hopkins.
"Donny is very humble," Edds said. "He wishes he could have saved John. This wasn't the first encounter he had with John. He gave him money three weeks ago."
Hopkins said he could tell that Berry was a good man from past conversations he had with him. The ordeal has been extremely difficult for him to deal with and he is currently seeing counselors provided by sheriff's deputies. He wouldn't be doing as well as he is today if it weren't for the sheriff's deputies support, according to him.
Hopkins moved to the area a little over a year ago from Utah and is living in his mother's home with his wife and two children.
Hopkins plans to catch up on bills, help his mother out and hopefully buy a "nice little used car" with the reward money, he said.