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There were five shootings at and near a Malibu park over two years. Why didn't authorities alert the public until father was killed?

There were five shootings at and near a Malibu park over two years. Why didn't authorities alert the public until father was killed?
Investigators on scene at Malibu State Creek Park where a father was fatally shot inside his tent while he was camping with his young daughters. (KTLA)

The shooting death of a father inside his tent while camping with his daughters at Malibu Creek State Park stunned residents and visitors to the popular open space.

But that shock has turned to questions after it was revealed that at least five other shooting incidents had occurred in the last two years in the areas in and around the park. The other shootings, in which at least one person was injured, got little publicity at the time but now have prompted fears that they might somehow be connected.

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The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said it’s reviewing some of the earlier cases but has not found any direct links to the fatal shooting last week of scientist Tristan Beaudette at a campground inside the park. In the wake of the death, state park officials have closed the campground off Las Virgenes Canyon Road as a safety precaution until further notice.

Some residents expressed concern about why officials did not provide more information about the earlier shootings.

Nicole Nishida, a Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman, said the three latest shootings before the homicide occurred were on June 6, 2017; July 22, 2017; and June 18, 2018. Nishida provided the number of shootings to The Times after the newspaper reported two accounts — from 2016 and January 2017 — of shootings that targeted campers. In one of those shootings, a young man sleeping in his hammock in nearby Tapia Park was shot with a shotgun and wounded.

Nishida did not provide details about the other incidents. But Malibu community activist Cece Woods said she is aware of one incident just days before Beaudette was killed in which someone fired a shot at a Tesla being driven along Malibu Canyon Road. She said the bullet hit the car but no one was injured.

Woods, who runs the publication The Local: the Voices of Malibu, said she believes authorities should have given the public more warning about that and the other shootings in the area.

Sheriff's officials on Tuesday said that they took those earlier shootings seriously.

“The Malibu/Lost Hills Station has previously increased patrols in the areas nearby following the prior incidents, and has canvassed the surrounding residences in an effort to obtain any workable information," Nishida said in a statement. "Deputies will continue to maintain a highly visible presence in the vicinity to ensure public safety.”

Beaudette, who worked in pharmaceuticals, was camping at the state park in Calabasas just off Las Virgenes Road on Friday when he was fatally shot before dawn inside his tent, where he was with his 2- and 4-year-old daughters and other family members.

Nishida said detectives have spent the last few days working with state parks officials and other agencies to “compare any similar shooting incidents” that have occurred within Malibu Creek State Park. The area in and around Malibu Creek State Park is patrolled by several different agencies, including state park rangers, sheriff's deputies and California Highway Patrol.

A state parks spokeswoman said it has turned over all reports from 2016 to present regarding the illegal discharge of weapons at Malibu Creek State Park to sheriff's detectives. The agency declined to provide further details, citing the ongoing investigation.

L.A. County sheriff’s Lt. Rodney Moore, who is overseeing the homicide investigation, said in an interview that detectives had no evidence connecting any prior shootings to Beaudette’s death but that they also could not rule out any potential links.

A young man who was hiking the Backbone Trail and sleeping overnight in a hammock in Tapia Park, just south of Malibu Creek State Park, was struck by a shotgun blast Nov. 3, 2016.

James Rogers told The Times he needed surgery to remove the many pellets that hit him. “I heard a loud bang and then felt a burning sensation in my arm and fell to the ground,” he said. “Before I could look at my wound, I did a quick check of the perimeter and I saw nothing."

Rogers said he was not sleeping in a formal campground and was about 200 yards from Malibu Canyon Road when he was shot.

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Meliss Tatangelo was camping in her Honda when she heard a loud noise around 5 a.m. in January 2017. She and another camper did not go outside, but she later found part of a shell at the back of her car where she had been sleeping. She reported the incident to authorities, she noted on her Facebook page.

Law enforcement experts contacted by The Times said it’s difficult to determine whether a series of random shootings in an area are connected.

Charles "Sid" Heal, a retired L.A. County sheriff's commander, said that while geography may be similar, there are some key differences in the shootings. For example, the killing of Beaudette inside a campground feels different from someone taking a potshot on a canyon road.

"If [authorities] felt there was a real danger to the public, they would have an obligation to inform people," Heal said. “The problem here is the shootings are spaced out and may not follow any real pattern connecting them.”

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