Store owner killed over displaying Pride flag; suspect shouted homophobic slurs: Police

The suspect, Travis Ikeguchi, was killed in a confrontation with sheriff deputies.

ByBill Hutchinson ABCNews logo
Wednesday, August 23, 2023
People visit the store in Lake Arrowhead, Calif., where a store owner was shot and killed following a confrontation over a Pride flag on Aug. 18, 2023.

LAKE ARROWHEAD, Calif. -- A California clothing store owner and designer was killed allegedly by a gunman who police say tore down a Pride flag outside her business and shot her after making homophobic remarks toward her.

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 is now deceased, was identified as Travis Ikeguchi, 27, Sheriff Shannon Dicus said at a news conference on Monday evening.

"Investigators determined that prior to the shooting, the suspect tore down a Pride, or rainbow, flag that was hanging in front of the store and yelled many homophobic slurs toward Carleton," Dicus said during Monday's media briefing.

Ikeguchi, who lived in Cedar Glen, frequently posted hate-filled content on social media, sheriff's officials said.

After allegedly shooting Carleton, the suspect fled the crime scene on foot, but was found by sheriff's deputies several miles from her store, where he was fatally shot in a confrontation, authorities said. The sheriff's office said the assailant was armed with a handgun, which authorities said Monday night was a Smith & Wesson 9mm automatic handgun, and refused orders to drop the weapon.

When deputies tried to apprehend the suspect, he reportedly shot at them and they fired back. Despite using lifesaving measures, the suspect died at the scene, the sheriff said Monday.

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.

The investigation is ongoing and the sheriff's office will be turning the case over to the district attorney's office.

"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.

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 "Ghostbusters" -- 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 series "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 gun allegedly used in the shooting was not registered to Ikeguchi, nor was he a concealed weapon holder, the sheriff said Monday night. The day before the incident, his family had reported him missing. The suspect was not on the radar of authorities before the incident.

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.

ABC News' Jolie Lash contributed to this story. The Associated Press also contributed.