Carleton murder: trying to make sense of the senseless

Photo by Jack Lucas Smith on Unsplash

by Steve Harrison | Special to the Courier

Last Friday John and I decided to make a quick trip up to Lake Arrowhead as a last hurrah before tropical storm Hilary battered the southland and our precarious perch here in town. Two of my favorite shops are up in Cedar Glen, hugging the southeastern edge of Lake Arrowhead.

We spent a lot of time talking to Robin, the proprietor of The Lake House, about art and artists and business, and Cedar Glen. One of the people she was telling us about was Laura Ann Carleton, owner of Mag.Pi. Robin was giving Laura much credit for a new vital energy she had brought to the mountain. As we were talking my eye flitted from item to item, and locked in on a painting that was quite different from anything we had.

We continued to talk about life up the hill and the many changes that had occurred in the last few years. John too was eyeing the same painting. Robin told us a bit about the artist, our conversation continued to bounce among a number of topics, but my eye kept going back to this small white rowboat in the middle of a calm, blue, watery background.

It was just about 5 p.m. and we had a dinner reservation a few miles away at 5:30. As we were getting ready to go, I asked John what he thought about the painting. “I like it a lot,” was all I needed to hear to tell Robin we would take it. We left her store at 5:10, and as we drove out of Cedar Glen, I noticed a number of men standing around in front of the shop that Robin had referred to earlier. I thought to myself that it was too bad we were running late, because the way Robin described Mag.Pi, it was another place I would like to visit. Somehow in my mind I thought the men were construction workers or townspeople getting ready to go to a coffee shop. No one was moving in a way that suggested fear or trauma. I noticed a piece of colorful cloth on the ground and thought nothing of it.

The next morning as I skimmed my Facebook page, I saw a gay friend who lives in Running Springs mention a shooting in Lake Arrowhead. A little further skimming revealed the victim was Laura Carleton, the friend and business owner Robin had been praising. A bit more investigation made clear the shooting of this beloved mother of nine occurred just as we were making our purchase and getting ready to leave The Lake House. It was only in reading the reports that I became aware what an ally of gay rights and causes Laura had been.

John and I have talked of how we very well may have dodged a bullet that day. Maybe it’s our age, maybe it is still relief that we missed Covid, or maybe it is gratitude that the storm missed Claremont that makes me personalize this close call with homophobic hatred. It’s hard to understand how a flag can trigger crazy and hate, as we have now learned was the impetus for this senseless murder.

As we drive around our Claremont bubble seeing all the Pride flags, and as we rehang a new Pride flag to replace our faded one, I can’t help but wonder how many are filled with hate when they see this multicolored piece of cloth. We should be better than this. We should be saner than this. But unfortunately, we aren’t.  

We know art can save. Artists will tell you their work takes them away from the chaos of modern life. It calms crazy thoughts. How great it would be if those for whom others’ beliefs and existence are disturbing could calm their minds with making art or appreciating the beauty of nature. Many of our paintings provide us with comfort. The landscapes take us away from daily concerns and the perils of aging, but this new painting may very well have saved our lives.


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