A 27-year-old man was gunned down by the police after he killed a beloved store owner in California following a dispute over a Pride flag outside her clothing store.
The shooter, identified as Travis Ikeguchi, killed 66-year-old Laura Ann Carleton at her clothing store “Mag Pi” at Hook Creek Road in Cedar Glen after he made “several disparaging remarks about a rainbow flag that stood outside the store”, authorities in San Bernardino County said.
The mother-of-nine and a “true LGBTQ+ ally” was pronounced dead on the spot.
Ikeguchi fled the crime scene on foot but was intercepted by deputies a mile from the store on Friday. The suspect opened fire with an unregistered Smith & Wesson 9mm semi-automatic pistol, striking multiple squad cars, sheriff Shannon Dicus told reporters.
The deputies returned fire and shot Ikeguchi, who died at the scene, the sheriff added.
Before fatally shooting Carleton, the suspect tore down the LGBTQ+ Pride flag that was hanging in front of the store and “yelled homophobic slurs” toward the woman.
Ikeguchi lived in Cedar Glen and his family had reported him missing to the sheriff’s department one day before the murder, officials said.
According to authorities, the semiautomatic handgun used by Ikeguchi was not registered to him, and he did not have a license to carry a concealed weapon.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said that Ikeguchi – from Cedar Glen, California – had a history of anti-LGBT+ posts, anti-police content along with conspiracy theories on social media.
“The content of Ikeguchi’s social media posts contained posts critical to the LGBTQIA community,” said the officer.
Accounts on X and Gab under Ikeguchi’s name, reviewed by The Independent, appear to match the hateful posts referred to by authorities.
In one post, dated 13 June and pinned to the top of the X account, Ikeguchi appeared to post an image of a burning rainbow flag.
“What to do with the LGBTQP flag?” the chilling post was captioned.
In another post on 28 June, the user took aim at same-sex marriage and abortion.
“Abortion and same-sex marriage are both immoral and are design to destroy humanity one by one,” the tweet read.
“So if someone is pro-abortion and pro-LGBTQP, they are at war against the foundation of family values. –Travis Ikeguchi 6/23/2023 6:39am.”
In a post the same day, he revealed a deep-rooted paranoia and dislike for law enforcment.
“Do not follow their traps they want to know everything about you to catch you and used against you in court and lie about you. Watch out their sociopathic schemes,” the post read.
Over on Gab – the site popular with extreme right-wing figures – the account believed to belong to Ikeguchi regularly shared anti-LGBT+ and anti-law enforcement rhetoric.
In another post on 28 June, the user took aim at same-sex marriage and abortion
One harrowing post shared on Friday – the day of Carleton’s murder – read: “America must repent for a lot of things we allow; abortion/baby killing, sexual immortality, pornography, same-sex marriages, LGBTQP/pedophilia, freemasonry, religiosity, politics, wars, colonialism, the federal reserve.”
The anti-LGBT+ content went back as far as two years, with a 2021 post reading: “We need to STOP COMPROMISING on this LGBT dictatorship and not let them take over our lives!”
In another violent post also from 2021, the user spoke of killing police officers.
“I know it’s controversial for me to mention the option to kill a police officer, but these police officers are not the servants for the people they are the servants for the laws,” the post read.
The Independent has reached out to San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department for comment on the accounts.
A sheriff’s spokesperson told NBC News that Carleton’s murder is now being investigated as a hate crime.
Meanwhile, tributes poured in for Carleton, who remained defiant as a prominent ally to the LGBTQ+ community.
When people first ripped down the Pride flag hanging outside her store, Carleton simply got another and hung it straight back up.
Friends say this happened multiple times in the two years since she opened the California store as a second outpost to her first location in Studio City.
The Lake Arrowhead LGBTQ+ described her as a “remarkable figure”, whose "unwavering support" for the community and “dedication to creating a safe and inclusive space within her shop touched the lives of many”.
There was an outpouring of support on social media as well, with commenters expressing shock and sadness on the store’s accounts.
Hollywood director Paul Feig, whose works include Bridesmaids and The Heat, posted a tribute saying that Carleton, who he called his “wonderful friend”, had been killed by a young man.
“Her alleged murderer was later shot and killed by the San Bernardino police and so no longer poses a threat to the community,” Feig continued.
“But this intolerance has to end. Anyone using hateful language against the LGBTQ+ community has to realize their words matter, that their words can inspire violence against innocent loving people. Let’s all keep moving forward with tolerance and love. Let’s not let Lauri’s tragic death be in vain.”
The shooting comes about one month after the Anti-Defamation League and the LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD released a report indicating a recent rise in anti-LGBTQ harassment, vandalism or assault in the United States.
“This is absolutely horrific. This disgusting hate has no place in CA,” California governor Gavin Newsom wrote in a social media post on Saturday.