For the better part of two years, Anthony Rauda could be found sleeping in or around Malibu Creek State Park, one of any number of people who chose to spend their nights dozing near the popular hiking trails.
But while the campers used the beach-adjacent recreation area as a quick getaway, Rauda stayed. Prosecutors say he was using the park and the surrounding area for a different purpose: as a hunting ground.
In November 2016, a man who was sleeping outside while hiking the Backbone Trail awoke to a loud bang and said he felt a “burning sensation” in his arm. He looked down to find pellets from a shotgun blast embedded in his skin.
The hiker was the first of 11 people to find themselves in Rauda’s sights over the next two years, prosecutors said Monday. Rauda, 42, allegedly opened fire on campsites and cars seven times between November 2016 and last June, when a rifle blast killed 35-year-old Tristan Beaudette as he camped with his daughters.
Rauda was charged Monday with one count of murder and 10 counts of attempted murder, a move that brought some relief to residents whose neighborhoods were scarred by a furious wildfire and who’d become panicked at the idea that a sniper was stalking one of L.A.’s most idyllic locales.
“Our community, the greater Malibu community, is still coping with the loss of those in Thousand Oaks followed by the loss of all the homes and three people in the fire,” said Malibu City Councilman Skylar Peak, referring to the mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill and the eruption of the Woolsey fire a day later. “It has just been a really tough, tough end to 2018, that I feel a lot of people are looking to put behind them.”
Rauda was arrested near Malibu last October in connection with a string of burglaries, but news that he was carrying a rifle at the time of his capture led to speculation that he might have been the gunman connected to the sporadic shootings. Forensic tests confirmed that the rifle he was arrested with was used in several of the shootings, said two law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the case candidly.
Investigators do not believe Rauda knew any of the individuals he fired on. The attacks were “all random, targets of opportunity,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said.
Rauda was restrained in a chair and said little during a brief court appearance in Van Nuys on Monday. His bail was set at $1.1 million. Rauda did not enter a plea and his hearing was continued until Jan. 22. Deputy Public Defender Max Fantozzi declined to comment after the hearing.
The attacks also became something of a political football, as Villanueva sharply criticized then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s handling of the case during the waning days of his 2018 election bid to oust the incumbent. Echoing concerns raised by some residents, Villanueva questioned why the Sheriff’s Department had not publicized the potentially related shootings earlier. Discussing those comments Monday, Villanueva said the issue had been handled internally and he praised the investigators who captured Rauda.
“It represented a challenge in many regards: the sheer logistics of it, the fact that there was a time period of almost two years that we had to backtrack and figure out what his activities were,” Villanueva said. “It took a lot of hard work and good old-fashioned police work to make it happen.”
According to the criminal complaint filed Monday, Rauda was linked to seven shootings between November 2016 and Beaudette’s death last year. The first took place on Nov. 3, 2016, when James Rogers says he was shot in the arm as he was sleeping in Tapia Park, just south of Malibu Creek State Park. Rauda allegedly shot at three cars in the area in 2017, and prosecutors have charged him with five counts of attempted murder in connection with those incidents, according to court records.
Rauda opened fired on a Tesla in June of last year, just four days before Beaudette was killed, prosecutors said. Rauda was also charged with two counts of attempted murder in connection with Beaudette’s death, as the victim’s young daughters were sleeping nearby.
Prosecutors also accused Rauda of breaking into commercial buildings owned by the Las Virgenes Water District, Spectrum Building Development and the Agoura Hills/Calabasas Community Center five times between July and October of last year, court records show.
Several law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Rauda was a “survivalist” who often slept outside in the Malibu area and other coastal sections. During the break-ins, he stole food and other items that would help foster his outdoor lifestyle, instead of valuables, the officials said.
The suspect’s weapon of choice also changed over the course of his alleged attacks, the officials said. He employed a shotgun in the 2016 shootings but began using a rifle afterward.
Sheriff’s investigators had been closing in on Rauda in the weeks leading up to his capture, Villanueva said. Detectives found video footage of him committing a burglary in the area, and also captured images of him carrying the rifle he was later arrested with, the sheriff said.
Rauda has a lengthy criminal record, including multiple convictions for illegal weapons possession in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, court records show. He previously lived in Florida and Texas, where he was convicted of assault, according to court records.
Sgt. Eric Buschow, a spokesman for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, said Rauda had been arrested several times in their jurisdiction and was once found illegally carrying a handgun. Investigators there also noted that in 2010, a woman was injured near the Los Angeles-Ventura county border when someone shot at her car from a distance while she drove along Thousand Oaks Boulevard, though Buschow said there is no definitive link between Rauda and that case.
Peak, the Malibu councilman, said that although he’s happy a suspect is in custody, he still often thinks of Beaudette’s family.
“Hopefully, we can put this thing to rest and people can rest easy at night. It was a real difficult thing for everyone in the area,” he said. “My heart still goes out to the widow and the children … this was an unimaginable crime.”
Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.