A Pride flag, a fight and gunfire: The senseless murder of Laura Ann Carleton

As a gay man, Bob Stuhr appreciated Laura Ann Carleton raising a rainbow flag in front of her clothing store in Lake Arrowhead.

But as a businessman running a store a few doors down in the same mall, Stuhr Carleton warned the flag might not be good for business in the mountain community 80 miles east of Los Angeles.

“I told her when she was putting up all these flags that as an entrepreneur, that's probably not the best idea — because some flags trigger people,” Stuhr said.

But Carleton didn't care, and she told Stuhr so ​​bluntly.

“She said … ‘You don't have to shop at my store.'”

But her decision to raise the Pride flag in front of her shop had dire consequences, authorities said.

Carleton was shot Friday by a man who initially made “several disparaging remarks about a rainbow flag that was parked outside the store,” San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department officials said in a news release.

When sheriff's deputies arrived, they found Carleton, 66, suffering from a gunshot wound, authorities said. Paramedics determined her death at the scene of the accident.

A screenshot of a man and woman standing outside, leaning cheek to cheek

Laura Ann Carleton in an undated photo with daughter Ari Carleton.

Officers said they found the man several miles away and armed with a handgun after fleeing on foot. During a confrontation, officers shot the suspect dead.

On Monday, officers identified the man as Travis Ikeguchi27

Days later, the violence that Carleton's killing entailed – and the outpouring of support from local residents, friends and supporters of the LGBTQ+ community – can still be felt at the scene.

A single bullet hole pierced the glass entrance of Carleton's Mag.Pi store and solemnly greeted the funeral procession, which dropped flowers and more rainbow flags.

Friends gathered at nearby stores and in the parking lot outside, crying and holding each other and telling stories about Carleton while trying to understand the loss of a woman who was a pillar of the community, entrepreneur and advocate at the same time.

The longtime resident of Lake Arrowhead and Los Angeles ran another business in Studio City, also called Mag.Pi.

Carleton had a long and distinguished career in the LA fashion world, working for Fred Segal, Joseph Magnin Century City and Kenneth Cole Biography published on the website of Mag.Pi.

“For Lauri, Mag.Pi is about approaching everyday life with grace and ease and continuing to dream,” says her biography, adding that she and her family “have a passion for architecture, design, fine arts, food , fashion and much more.” It taught him to absorb and appreciate the beauty, style and brilliance of life.”

Carleton lived part-time in Lake Arrowhead for decades and integrated into the community, friends said. The community of about 10,000 people built around an alpine lake has long been home to a mix of locals and wealthier folk with sumptuous second homes.

Friends said the region has experienced a cultural clash, particularly with more city dwellers arriving during the pandemic. But Carleton is good at bridging both worlds, they said, noting that she loved talking to people who didn't agree with them and trying to change their minds.

After a massive winter snowfall that pinned down residents of the San Bernardino Mountains, Carleton and her husband gathered vendors to set up a “free shop” next to their shop where those in need could get free groceries for four months.

Carleton's death now reverberates far beyond the quaint alpine town where she lived.

“The tragic targeted killing of Lauri over the Pride flag at her Lake Arrowhead store was senseless and, unfortunately, part of a growing body of attacks against LGBTQ people and our allies,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, President of GLAAD.

GLAAD and the Anti-Defamation League have tracked more than 350 anti-LGBTQ+ attacks nationwide this year, Ellis said.

Celebrities also comment on Carleton's murder.

“This saddens me deeply,” continued actor Jamie Lee Curtis Instagram. Curtis has spoken about her in the past transgender child. “This is our country now and we cannot look away. Rest in Peace Laura Ann Carleton, mother of nine. Thank you for your allies.”

Carleton's killing follows previous interactions with people who were upset by her open support of the LGBTQ+ community.

A man driving by in a pickup truck recently complained to Carleton, said Vicki Dolezal, who works at a shop on the mall.

“He was just outside and said he didn't appreciate the flag being up. And she just said, “Well, to each his own,” you know, “That's my business.” And I want the flag to be raised,” Dolezal recalled.

Carleton's experience was not unique.

A close friend, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of further anti-LGBTQ backlash, said she got back in touch with Carleton in 2019 after two signs were stolen from her – one reading “love is love” and another, who endorsed then-presidential candidate Joe Biden outside the friend's home.

Carleton left the woman an envelope full of cash and wrote her a letter with a simple message: Buy a bigger sign.

“She was fearless,” said Ari Carleton, one of Carleton's nine children, in a broken voice. “My mother has long been a fierce ally of the LGBTQ community. We have many members of the community in our family and close circle of friends. So it was just important to her. Because these are people I grew up with and have always loved.”

The 28-year-old was at her family's home in Lake Arrowhead on Monday. She and others have been inundated with messages of support from people around the world, she said.

But the loss of her mother is more than an attack on the LGBTQ+ community and its allies. It leaves a void that her entire family feels and is just beginning to come to terms with, she said.

A plaque hanging in the garage of Carleton's Lake Arrowhead home summed up her feelings: “Everything changes! Be thankful for everything! Never criticize others.”

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