(CEDAR GLEN, Calif.) — A California clothing store owner and designer was killed allegedly by a gunman who confronted her about a rainbow Pride flag outside her business and shot her after making disparaging remarks about the display, according to police.
Laura Ann Carleton, a married mother of nine children, was killed Friday outside her clothing store in Cedar Glen, an unincorporated San Bernardino County community on the shores of Lake Arrowhead, according to a statement from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office.
The suspected killer, who has not been publicly identified, fled the crime scene on foot, but was found by sheriff’s deputies near Carleton’s store, where he was fatally shot in a confrontation, authorities said. The sheriff’s office said the assailant was armed with a handgun and refused orders to drop the weapon.
“When deputies attempted to contact the suspect, a lethal force encounter occurred and the suspect was pronounced deceased,” according to a statement from the sheriff’s office.
No deputies were injured during the incident.
Carleton was gunned down outside her store around 5 p.m. on Friday, according to the sheriff’s office.
“Through further investigation, detectives learned the suspect made several disparaging remarks about a rainbow flag that stood outside the store before shooting Carleton,” according to the sheriff’s office statement.
The investigation is ongoing and the sheriff’s office released no further details. Authorities asked that anyone with information about the shooting to contact homicide investigators immediately.
“This is absolutely horrific. This disgusting hate has no place in CA,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a social media post Sunday night.
On her store’s website, Carleton said she began her career in the fashion industry when she was a teenager. She attended the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, before embarking on a career in fashion design, according to the website.
Eventually, Carleton joined Kenneth Cole Productions almost from its inception in 1982 and worked for the company for more than 15 years, becoming an executive, according to the website.
Cole posted a statement on social media confirming Carleton had been a friend and a long-time associate of his company. Cole called Carleton’s slaying “an unnecessary and tragic death.”
While Carleton and her husband have a home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Studio City, the couple owns a 1920s fisherman’s cabin on Lake Arrowhead, her store’s website said.
“With a penchant for longevity, she has been married to the same man for 28 years and is the mother of a blended family of nine children, the youngest being identical twin girls,” according to Carleton’s website.
The Lake Arrowhead LGBTQ organization posted a message on its Facebook page honoring Carleton and describing her as a strong supporter of LGBTQ rights.
“Today was a very sad day for Lake Arrowhead and for the LGBTQ community. Our friend and supporter Lauri Carleton… was murdered defending her lgbtq+ Pride flags in front of her store in Cedar Glen, California,” the group wrote in a statement. “Lauri did not identify as LGBTQ+ but spent her time helping & advocating for everyone in the community. She will be truly missed.”
San Bernardino County Supervisor Dawn Rowe also released a statement, saying, “This senseless act of hate and violence is unthinkable.”
“I stand with my mountain communities as we mourn this incredible loss,” Rowe said. “Everyone deserves to live free of hate and discrimination and practice their constitutional right of freedom of speech. Lauri was a remarkable member of the community and I send my deepest condolences to her family in this time of grief.”
Paul Feig — director of such movies as “Bridesmaids, “The Heat” and the 2016 remake of “Ghostbuster” — said in a social media post that Carleton was a friend.
“She was a wonderful person who did so much for the LGBTQ+ community as well as the community at large,” Feig wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “What happened to her is an absolute tragedy. If people don’t think anti-gay & trans rhetoric isn’t dangerous, think again.”
Actress Bridget Everett — of the HBO MAX dramedy “Somebody Somewhere” — also mourned Carleton in a post on Instagram, saying it was not the first encounter Carleton faced over displaying the pride flag.
“In the past, when someone took down her flag or vandalized it, she’d put up another one,” Everett said in her post, which was accompanied by a photo of Carleton. “The last time I saw Lauri was, oddly enough, at Lake Arrowhead Pride both in the parade and then at a party. All that anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has a price. And now, Lauri’s husband Bort, her daughters, friends and community are devastated. And for what?”
The shooting came amid a rise in anti-LGBTQ+ extremism across the nation that has led to protests, threats and violence against the community.
A report this year by the Anti-Defamation League and the LGBTQ+ organization GLAAD shows there were more than 350 incidents of harassment, vandalism or assault from June 2022 to April 2023, which the report says coincides with an increase in rhetoric and legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community.
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