Santa Barbara surfer dad ‘enlightened by QAnon’ to kill his kids, feds say
A Santa Barbara father suspected of killing his two children in Mexico told the FBI he was a QAnon adherent and had to kill them because they had been infected with serpent DNA and he was saving the world from monsters, according to a criminal complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court Wednesday.
Matthew Taylor Coleman, 40, is charged with two counts of foreign murder of a United States national in the slaying of his 2-year-old son and 10-month-old daughter. He is accused of shooting them with a spearfishing gun on Monday in Rosarito — a beach community 30 minutes south of Tijuana, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Coleman runs the Lovewater Surf Co., a surfing school based in Santa Barbara, and is an alumnus of Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, according to the company’s website.
Coleman told FBI agents he killed his children by shooting a spear into their chests, explaining that he had been “enlightened by QAnon and Illuminati conspiracy theories” and “believed he was saving the world from monsters,” according to an affidavit in support of the complaint.
Coleman told federal agents he was “receiving visions and signs revealing that his wife ... possessed serpent DNA and had passed it onto his children,” the affidavit states.
While QAnon encompasses a broad array of conspiracy theories, its followers generally believe that former President Trump is fighting a deep-state of Satan-worshipping cannibals — including prominent Democrats and A-list celebrities — who are operating a child sex-trafficking ring.
It was not immediately clear whether Coleman had hired an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
Coleman’s wife contacted the Santa Barbara Police Department on Saturday to report that her husband had left the couple’s residence in a Mercedes Sprinter van with their two children and she did not know where they had gone, according to the affidavit.
She told police that Coleman was not responding to text messages but that she did not believe he would harm their children. She told police she was concerned because Coleman did not have a car seat.
The next day, she filed a missing persons report. Using the Find My Phone app, Coleman’s wife was able to determine that her husband’s phone had been in Rosarito on Sunday afternoon, the affidavit states.
Surveillance video obtained by Baja California investigators shows Coleman checked into a City Express hotel in Rosarito on Saturday with his two children.
Baja California prosecutor Hiram Sánchez Zamora said surveillance video showed Coleman left the City Express hotel on Monday at 2:54 a.m. with both children. He returned to the hotel at 6:33 a.m., but without his children, Sánchez said.
At 7:27 a.m. Monday, Baja California police received a 911 call about the discovery of the bodies of two children in diapers believed to have been repeatedly stabbed. Their bodies were discovered in a ditch by a farmworker near the El Descanso ranch, which is on a scenic road between Tijuana and Ensenada.
Coleman’s son had been stabbed 17 times and his daughter12 times. A wooden stake stained with blood was found near the bodies and initially believed to be the murder weapon.
Witnesses who found the bodies told Baja California media outlets that they believed the killings were part of some type of satanic ritual or cult killing.
The same phone-locating service was used later Monday, showing that Coleman’s phone was near the San Ysidro Port of Entry at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the affidavit.
The FBI asked law enforcement colleagues in San Diego to stop Coleman, who entered the United States in the van. Coleman was referred to secondary inspection and then arrested as he crossed from Tijuana into the U.S. at San Ysidro, according to the court affidavit and Baja California officials.
Customs and Border Protection officers reported seeing what appeared to be blood on the van’s registration paperwork, according to the affidavit.
When the children were not found with Coleman, FBI agents contacted law enforcement officials in Rosarito and learned that Mexican authorities that morning had recovered the bodies of two children matching the description of Coleman’s.
Coleman told FBI agents during an interrogation that he killed the children with a spearfishing gun that he discarded a couple miles away along with some bloody clothes and a baby blanket, according to the affidavit. Mexican authorities were able to find those items and the weapon.
QAnon beliefs have been linked not only to political violence, including the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, but to violence grounded in delusions about the victimization of children. In 2019, an internal memo from the Phoenix office of the FBI called QAnon and adjacent conspiracy theories a domestic terror threat, citing at least two violent incidents.
The movement has had to pivot after Trump’s predicted day of judgment, known as “The Storm,” did not arrive as promised, and many people now believe that Trump is a shadow president.
A report by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security released in June warned of more violent action by adherents of QAnon, with some likely to begin believing that “they can no longer ‘trust the plan’ referenced in QAnon posts and that they have an obligation to change from serving as ‘digital soldiers’ toward engaging in real world violence.”
U.S. law allows the prosecution of murder committed in another country so long as the defendant and victims are U.S. citizens and the defendant has since left the country where the crime was committed. The statute is rarely used and must be approved at the highest levels of the Justice Department.
The charge has been used twice in recent years in San Diego federal court to prosecute killings in Mexico. One case involved the 2011 murder of Yvonne Baldelli on an island off Panama. Her boyfriend returned to his home in northern San Diego County and was prosecuted. In the other case, Jake Merendino, a wealthy Texan, was murdered near Rosarito by his lover, who returned to his home in San Diego and was prosecuted.
Fry writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.