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Suspect Named in Fatal Shooting of California Store Owner Over a Pride Flag

Police identified a man Monday who shot and killed a California business owner last week after he allegedly took issue with a Pride flag she had displayed at her clothing store in Lake Arrowhead, California. Sheriff’s officials told NBC News that the killing is being investigated as a possible hate crime. Travis Ikeguchi, 27, was responsible for shooting Laura Ann Carleton, 66, to death after “yelling many homophobic slurs” about the store’s Pride flag Friday, San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus said at a news conference Monday. Ikeguchi fled Carleton’s store, Mag Pi, by foot and was later killed in “a lethal force encounter” with deputies Friday. He fired at multiple patrol vehicles with an unregistered semi-automatic handgun before officials fatally shot him, Dicus said.

Dicus added that it appears Ikeguchi acted alone. However, he said that authorities want to ensure that the crime was not affiliated with any broader hate groups and that the investigation continues. A sheriff’s spokesperson told NBC News that the incident is being investigated as a potential hate crime, but officials did not elaborate when they were asked at the news conference Monday. Officials said Monday that Ikeguchi — a resident of Cedar Glen, California — had a history of making posts that were critical of the LGBTQ community and law enforcement on multiple social media platforms, including X, formerly known as Twitter. In response to a request for comment about Monday’s news conference, Carleton’s daughter, Ari Carleton, said her “family doesn’t care” about Ikeguchi.

“We will continue to steer the narrative away from him and towards my mother and honoring her. He is irrelevant,” she said in a direct message on Instagram. “The media must stop glorifying these individuals by giving them this platform.” California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, condemned the shooting Sunday, calling it “absolutely horrific.” “This disgusting hate has no place in CA,” Newsom wrote on X. San Bernardino County Supervisor Dawn Rowe, a Republican whose district represents Lake Arrowhead, also denounced Carleton’s killing and vowed to create an environment in which LGBTQ people feel safe and respected.

“Regardless of your color, your sexual orientation, your gender, your political party, there should be acceptance, love and tolerance for everybody in this world. And I say that as a white female heterosexual conservative,” Rowe said in a phone call. “This is horrifying to me to think that I would live in a community that could have something like this happen.” Carleton’s killing prompted an outpouring from celebrities, including actors Jamie Lee Curtis and Kristin Davis, and sparked outrage among national LGBTQ activists.

“No one should feel unsafe or be attacked for who they are or for simply supporting the LGBTQ community,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the chief executive and president of the LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD, said in a statement Monday. “Lauri’s murder is the latest example of how anti-LGBTQ hatred hurts everyone, whether they are LGBTQ or not.” Ellis pointed to a recent report by GLAAD and the Anti-Defamation League, which tallied more than 350 anti-LGBTQ hate and extremism incidents in the U.S. from June 2022 to April.

Some of the more recent anti-LGBTQ hate-fueled crimes have also similarly involved rainbow Pride flags. In February, a woman got out of her car and approached a rainbow Pride flag hanging outside a New York City restaurant and set it on fire. In June, LGBTQ Pride Month, a Pride flag was taken down and burned outside a City Hall building in Tempe, Arizona. Again in New York City, Pride flags were torn down and damaged at least three times outside the Stonewall Inn — the site of the riots that are credited as the turning point of the modern LGBTQ rights movement — in June. 

Carleton also was killed just weeks after the fatal stabbing of a 28-year-old gay man in New York City. O’Shae Sibley, a professional dancer and choreographer, was stabbed to death July 29 after having danced to music by Beyoncé at a Brooklyn gas station. A 17-year-old male was arrested and charged with murder as a hate crime.