While police officials in Twin Peaks, California, continue the investigation into the death of Laura Ann Carleton (known as Lauri), who was shot and killed over a Pride flag outside of her Mag.Pi store, former associates remembered her as a caring and generous person.
The 27-year-old suspect, whose name has not yet been revealed, fled on foot and was later killed by deputies from the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Station following “a lethal encounter.” Detectives working on the case determined “through further investigation that the suspect had made several disparaging remarks about a rainbow flag that stood outside the store [in Cedar Glen, California] before shooting Carleton.”
Carleton, 66, was pronounced dead at the scene.
By her own account, Carleton shared “a blended family of nine children” with her husband of 30-plus years Bort, who did not respond to a media request Monday. Her family thanked the Lake Arrowhead community and asked for more time to hold a vigil because they are not ready to do so at this time, according to an Instagram post by Lake Arrowhead LGBTQ.
As of Monday afternoon, law enforcement officials continued to seek tips from the public regarding the investigation. But there were no updates regarding the case, according to a spokesperson for the San Bernardino County Sheriff-Coroner Department.
Located near Arrowhead Woods, Cedar Glen is a tight-knit community of 9,650 residents that is nearly equally divided between year-rounders and weekenders with second homes. Some come from cities such as San Diego for the tranquility while others are lured by the affability. Carleton and her husband qualified on both fronts, dividing their time between Studio City and Lake Arrowhead, where they and their clan retreated to a restored 1920s fisherman’s cabin, coveting the simple life of family, friends and animals at the lake. Having traveled extensively through much of the country, as well as Europe and South America, the couple reveled in architecture, design, fine art, food and fashion. Closer to home in Cedar Glen, one friend noted how they cherished time on the lake in their all-mahogany 1946 Chris-Craft.
In recent days, people have been creating a memorial at the Mag.Pi store in the Cedar Glen shopping center, leaving flowers, notes and messages of love and admiration for Carleton. Lake Arrowhead Communities Chamber of Commerce’s executive director Robin Bull said, “Even the hurricane[-like] storms didn’t keep mourners away.”
Carleton, whose maiden name was Rosenthal, was a native Californian who spent a good part of her career working for Kenneth Cole, starting out in the early ’80s. Before opening her first Mag.Pi store in Studio City, California, and then the second location in Cedar Glen, she learned the ropes of retail as a young woman. A few of her daughters are said to run the Studio City location. Representatives from Mag.Pi did not respond to a media request Monday. Before venturing into retail on her own, Carleton took drawing classes at the ArtCenter College of Design in 1977, but she did not earn a degree there, according to a school spokesperson.
Her father was once an early business partner with Stanley Silver who, along with Silver’s wife Patti, ran Fred Segal Feet in Beverly Hills. As a teenager, Carleton worked as a salesperson at Fred Segal Feet, which had eight locations at that time.
After ringing up the cash register fat Fred Segal Feet, Carleton worked in the shoe department at Joseph Magnin in Century City. She then started a 15-year run at Kenneth Cole, a designer known for his public activism including support for the LGBTQ community, in the company’s early days. On the road for more than 200 days annually, the executive helped to build the business and worked with factories and design teams in Italy and Spain.
Unavailable for a phone interview Monday, Cole described Carleton’s death via email as “an unnecessary and tragic death to a longtime KCP associate and friend. Lauri Carlton always had an unwavering spirit and commitment to what matters. May her light continue to shine, reminding us of the importance of love, acceptance, and standing up for what we believe in.”
Marilyn Dishell, a former interior designer and longtime Lake Arrowhead resident, shopped at Mag.Pi every once in a while and periodically chatted with Carleton, as was the case on Aug. 15. After a blizzard struck the area in February, Carleton manned the donation center that she and her husband had set up to help others and to provide them with food. As a founding member of the Mountain Provisions Co-op, Carleton reached out to Big 5, Home Depot and other companies, as well as people that she knew for support. Those efforts helped to generate donations of sleeping bags, gloves, shovels, tarps and other essentials for the snowbound, as well as monetary donations. In turn, 500 volunteers stepped forward to pitch in with “Operation Mountain Strong.”
Her generosity and all-are-welcome spirit made Friday’s crime all the more unimaginable for a few local residents. “There’s a really large gay community up here. Really, until this happened, I thought it was all encompassing, inclusive and people accepted that. Even though it was a conservative community, it’s not a hateful community. This community is not that way,” Dishell said. “Although last Tuesday, Lauri said to me that an older person, so it’s not the same person [referring to the 27-year-old suspect] was going into the restaurant next door to her shop. He had pointed to the flag and said, ‘Oh, this is what’s wrong with America today.’”
During their conversation last week, Carleton “wasn’t concerned for her safety at all. She was just disappointed that there were still random people who were so uninformed and non-inclusive.” Dishell said. “To think this was [the alleged act of] a young person is really distressing.”
Reiterating the strength of the local gay community and its annual Pride parade, Dishell said, “That’s why we’re all so shocked by this. She was a wonderful person and she was friendly to everyone loved her. It’s just so sad.”
The two women had a few mutual friends and had each started out working in retail. Dishell said she had complimented Carleton on how beautiful her long blond hair was, and the community-supportive Carleton immediately shared the name of her local stylist at Cardinale Salon.
Jaryn Bloom, group president of retail at Michael Kors, recalled meeting Carleton in the late ’80s, when she was starting her career. Describing Carleton as “a smart, powerful, driven woman,” Bloom said, “I was in New York and she was in California. But when she was in town, you knew it. Her passion, energy and commitment permeated throughout the workplace and beyond.”
Although Bloom and Carleton did not work together closely, Bloom said she admired her. Bloom said, “I am so devastated for Bort, her children, her close friends and anyone and everyone in her life, who knew this special lady. She touched so many. She was taken way too soon.”
Carleton’s death is the latest victim of an anti-LGBTQ related incident in the U.S. Between June 2022 and April 2023, there were more than 350 anti-LGBTQ hate and extremism incidents, including 305 acts of harassment, 40 acts of vandalism and 11 incidents of assault, according to a report released by the Anti-Defamation League and the national LGBTQ organization GLAAD earlier this year.
Despite what a few friends and associates described as an unfathomable crime, Lake Arrowhead retailers remain stalwart. The local chamber’s leader Bull, who is also a local shop owner, said, “In my 20-plus years of living in this small and nurturing alpine community, and having come from New York and other big cities around the world, I’ve never seen a horrific crime like this. And we hope to never again. I always felt safe here, as Lauri did too.”
The ArtCenter College of Design’s president Karen Hofmann said Monday, “The allegations that this horrendous crime was in response to celebrating Pride implies an unsettling link to the anti-LGBTQ hate that continues to plague our society. This hate is destructive and has no place in our community.”
Acknowledging how Carleton was “steadfast in her commitment to the equitable values we hold dear as an institution,” Hofmann said, “She demonstrated these values as the owner of two Mag.Pi boutiques and as a pillar in the respective communities of Lake Arrowhead and Studio City. We honor the work she did to offer aid and resources to local community members in need, along with her ongoing support for the LGBTQ community.”