Shop owner killed over Pride flag display outside her California store

Photo of Laura Ann Carleton, 66, alongside a picture of the outside of Mag.Pi, the clothing store she owned and operated, where community members have been leaving bouquets in the wake of her death. Carleton was killed by a gunman on Aug. 18, 2023 in a dispute about the Pride flags displayed outside her store. Facebook/Mountain Provisions Cooperative

A storeowner in California was killed Friday after a dispute over an LGBTQ2 Pride flag displayed outside her shop spiralled into deadly violence, police said. Online tributes have poured in to honour the late businesswoman, who was a beloved figure in her local community.

A man shot and killed 66-year-old Laura Ann Carleton right in front of her clothing store in Cedar Glen, a small community in the San Bernadino Mountains, east of Los Angeles.

The man “made several disparaging remarks about a rainbow flag that stood outside the store before shooting Carleton,” according to a statement from the San Bernadino County Sheriff’s Department.

Carleton was pronounced dead by medical personnel outside Mag.Pi, the clothing store she owned and operated.

The man fled the scene on foot after the shooting Friday afternoon, but police eventually located him and he was killed in a confrontation with officers. He was still armed with a handgun when police attempted to contact him.

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Further details about the unnamed man, and the “lethal force encounter” that left him dead, were not released by police.

Carleton, who went by the name “Lauri,” was the mother of a blended family of nine children, according to her biography on the Mag.Pi website. She is also survived by her husband of 28 years.

Photo of Laura Ann Carleton, 66, a California businesswoman who was killed on August 18, 2023. Facebook/Mountain Provisions Cooperative

An LGBTQ2 advocacy group in nearby Lake Arrowhead is helping to organize a vigil in Carleton’s honour. In an Instagram post, the organization wrote that Carleton didn’t identify as a member of the LGBTQ2 community, “but spent her time helping (and) advocating for everyone in the community.”

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The group characterized Carleton’s slaying as a hate crime, as she was defending her Pride flags when she was killed — though police have not said if Carleton’s death is considered as such.

In a followup post, the group shared a photo of the outside of Mag.Pi, which has been flooded with flower bouquets in the wake of Carleton’s death.

“Lauri’s unwavering support for the LBGTQ+ community and her dedication to creating a safe space within her shop touched the lives of many,” the organization wrote in an Instagram story, NBC reported. “Her untimely passing in a senseless act of violence has left us all deeply saddened.”

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Mountain Provisions Cooperative, a local grocery store that Carleton helped found, posted a tribute to the late businesswoman Saturday.

“Lauri was a pillar in our community, an immovable force in her values for equality, love, and justice. If you knew Lauri you know she loved hard, laughed often, and nurtured and protected those she cared about,” the post reads.

“We will continue to stand for the values she so selflessly stood for. Her death will not be in vain.”

The co-op added that Carleton and her husband were “pivotal in organizing our Free Store, which provided free food and supplies for 4 months,” after a blizzard hit communities in the San Bernadino Mountains this March.

The store is encouraging people to fly their Pride flags in tribute to Carleton.

“Pay an act of kindness forward in her honor. Our community needs as much love as we can get right now.”

Carleton’s biography on the Mag.Pi website states that she began working in fashion in her teens, helping with her family’s shoe business while she attended art school. She then joined the Kenneth Cole fashion house where she served as an executive for over 15 years before founding her own brand.

— with files from The Associated Press

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