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Mystery at Malibu Creek park: Who killed father at campground, and is it connected to other shootings?

James Rogers was hiking the Backbone Trail just south of Malibu Creek State Park two years ago when he was hit by bird shot from a shotgun as he slept in a hammock.

“I heard a loud bang and then felt a burning sensation in my arm and fell to the ground,” said Rogers, who needed surgery to remove the pellets. “Before I could look at my wound, I did a quick check of the perimeter and I saw nothing.”

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Authorities investigated the shooting without ever finding a suspect, and Rogers said in an interview Monday that he always believed he was shot at close range.

Now, the case is getting new attention as detectives try to solve the mystery killing of a father who was shot inside his tent last week while camping with his young daughters inside the state park.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators are examining several unsolved earlier shootings in the area over the last couple of years. At the same time, state parks officials announced Monday that the campground where last week’s shooting occurred was being closed until further notice.

“The safety of park visitors is our top priority,” the parks service said in a statement.

Tristan Beaudette in an image posted on GoFundMe.
Tristan Beaudette in an image posted on GoFundMe. (KTLA)

Tristan Beaudette, a scientist 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 while asleep with his 4- and 2-year-old daughters.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said detectives are examining whether the killing is connected to prior shootings at the state park. Officials said they have not found evidence so far linking Beaudette’s death to the other shootings. They also could not offer a full count of the number of shootings in the area.

“Told by those working out there, there have been several other shootings,” Rogers said.

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 an ammunition round in the back of her car where she had been sleeping. She reported the incident to authorities, she noted on her Facebook page.

In a Facebook post, she wrote that she believes a shotgun was fired about 20 feet away and if the line of fire had been an inch higher, she would have been struck as she slept inside the vehicle.

Beaudette, an Irvine resident and a veteran of the outdoors, was camping there to allow his wife, an Orange County obstetrician, some quiet time to study for an examination. Before 5 a.m., sheriff's deputies responded to a shot fired call from the area and found Beaudette bleeding. He died before he could be taken to a hospital.

In the aftermath of the shooting, deputies with K-9s scoured the campground and surrounding trails for clues.

The campground is closed at Malibu Creek State Park in Calabasas.
The campground is closed at Malibu Creek State Park in Calabasas. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. Rodney Moore said investigators are sifting through evidence from the scene and that the firearm has not been found. Detectives have begun reviewing other shootings in the area but have no evidence yet that ties any prior incidents to last week’s slaying.

“The theory we are working with is he was shot inside the tent,” Moore said. “The children were inside the tent too.”

The Beaudette family said they were trying to come to terms with the loss. The couple had been preparing to move to Northern California. A GoFund Me account has raised more than $91,000 for the family.

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“We are heartbroken by the loss of our beloved friend, husband, and father, Tristan Beaudette, whose life was tragically cut short by a senseless act of gun violence while on a camping trip with his two young daughters,” the family said in a statement. “The grief and trauma this loss has caused our close-knit family is indescribable.”

Beaudette, a scientist with numerous patents, according to the family, “loved cooking and micro-brews. Tristan was happiest out in nature and spent every chance he could hiking, biking, snowboarding and camping with his family. Married to his high school sweetheart, Tristan was a supportive and generous husband, a full partner in every sense of the word.”

Dylan Beaudette described his brother as a “good person who cared deeply for his family and fellow man.”

Tristan Beaudette was not alone with his kids on the camping trip. He was accompanied by his brother-in-law and his two children, who had their own tent.

Pam Wu, Beaudette’s sister-in-law, said in a Facebook post that her husband, Scott McCurdy, was with their “two little boys” on the camping trip with Beaudette and his children.

Those who responded to the scene were told by campers they believe the shot came from a distance into the camp site, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment. Sheriff’s officials declined to describe the specifics of the shooting.

A road leading to camping area at Malibu Creek State Park in Calabasas is closed.
A road leading to camping area at Malibu Creek State Park in Calabasas is closed. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
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