Kenneth Cole pays tribute to former employee shot to death over Pride flag

Fashion designer demands gun reforms while lamenting Laura Ann Carleton’s death

Shweta Sharma
Wednesday 23 August 2023 08:22 EDT

Related video: California shop owner Lauri Carleton killed over Pride flag

Fashion designer Kenneth Cole has lamented the death of Laura Ann Carleton, his longtime former executive who was shot dead for displaying a Pride flag at her clothing store.

Carleton, 66, who went on to become an independent business owner after a 15-year stint with Kenneth Kole Productions, was shot dead on 18 August at her clothing outlet in Lake Arrowhead, California.

“An unnecessary and tragic death to a long time KCP assoc [associate] and friend,” he said on X, formerly Twitter, and added a hashtag demanding gun reforms in the US.

Carleton was pronounced dead at the scene and the suspect was shot dead by police deputies in “a lethal force encounter”, the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department said.

Police said the suspect had “made several disparaging remarks about a rainbow flag that stood outside the store before shooting Carleton”.

Carleton’s cold-blooded murder has prompted celebrities from the entertainment industry and members of the LGBT+ community to speak out against the senseless killing and honour the memory of the mother of nine.

They also expressed concerns that the shocking murder is a sign of growing anti-LGBT+ sentiment and hatred across the US.

Carleton’s daughter Ari posted a heartfelt tribute on her Instagram, remembering her mother as a “fearless, cool and compassionate” human being and describing her death as a “hate crime”.

“As most of you know our beautiful mommy was taken from us in a senseless act of violence on Friday August 18th. She was murdered over a pride flag that she proudly hung on her storefront. Make no mistake, this was a hate crime. Her flags had been torn down before and she always responded by putting up a bigger one. Our family is broken. We have a long road ahead of us as we navigate this new reality without our loving matriarch,” she said.

Actor George Takei said her death was a result of the anti-LGBT+ sentiment coming from the right.

He said Carleton was a beloved shopkeeper in the area who was “shot and killed for standing up as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community”.

“Her crime in the eyes of the murderer? Officials say he ‘made several disparaging remarks about a rainbow flag’ outside her store before shooting her. Her killer died later in an encounter with police. This is the result of the hate they spew,” he said.

A makeshift memorial is seen outside the Mag Pi clothing store

“An innocent woman, a gentle and loving soul, has lost her life. My heart aches for her family in the wake of this horrific murder. Those responsible go beyond the murderer. Every anti-LGBTQ politician, bigoted pundit, and right-wing hate monger has Laura Carleton’s blood on their hands.”

“She was killed at her shop in Lake Arrowhead, CA for displaying the pride flag,” said congresswoman Cori Bush.

“This is the danger of the onslaught of homophobia & transphobia we’re seeing across the country. We won’t forget Lauri or her commitment to LGBTQIA+ rights.”

File photo: Fashion designer Kenneth Cole arrives for the 2022 Council of Fashion Designers of America

Carleton was an ally of the LGBT+ community and had faced resistance for displaying a Pride flag at her store in the past. She had, however, remained defiant and continued to display it outside her Mag Pi store.

But this time, the resistance to keep the flag cost her life after gunman Travis Ikeguchi began complaining about the Pride flag hanging outside her store and later killed her.

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