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Laguna Beach woman found dead in home is remembered as ‘awesome and loving’; son is suspected of murder

Vase of flowers and candles on the street below a landscaped slope leading up to home with retaining wall.
Memorial flowers and candles sit below the residence of Megan Hampton, who was found dead Sunday in her home in the Laguna Terrace Park mobile-home community in Laguna Beach.
(Faith E. Pinho)

Three people gathered Monday morning at Megan Hampton’s Laguna Beach home to refill her dog bowls — a tribute, of sorts, to someone who was known for walking dogs with her neighbors.

Hampton, 61, a resident of the Laguna Terrace Park mobile-home community at 30802 S. Coast Hwy., was found dead in her home shortly before 11 a.m. Sunday by a friend who was supposed to go to church with her, authorities said.

A man was detained as a “person of interest” Sunday after his mother, a woman in her 60s, was found dead at a Laguna Beach home, authorities said.

Hampton’s son — Matthew Bryson McDonald, 34 — was detained later that day in San Clemente and has been arrested on suspicion of murder, Laguna Beach police Sgt. Jim Cota said Monday. He was booked at Orange County Jail with bail set at $1 million and is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday, jail records show.

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Hampton and McDonald lived together in the home, according to a neighbor.

Booking photo of Matthew Bryson McDonald
Matthew Bryson McDonald, 34, was taken into custody Sunday and is suspected of murdering his mother, Megan Hampton, 61, of Laguna Beach, according to the Laguna Beach Police Department.
(Courtesy of Laguna Beach Police Department)

Detectives said officers found signs of “potential foul play” at the scene, and social media users who said they live nearby reported hearing screaming coming from the home.

Laguna Terrace Park is nestled above South Coast Highway, with its rows of homes tucked tightly together on a web of streets named for letters of the alphabet.

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Hampton’s brown mastiff was her frequent companion as she walked the neighborhood. A neighbor has taken the dog in, according to Danielle Halpern, who lives on the same street as Hampton’s home.

A neighbor who declined to give her name described Hampton as “awesome and loving and kind.”

“It’s so unfortunate,” the neighbor said. “She loved yoga and life. She was really cool.”

McDonald became a suspect after neighbors told investigators that they saw him leave the home quickly Sunday, backing into a mailbox with his mother’s car before speeding off. The scene was unusual, neighbors told police, because the man had not driven in several months and has a mental disorder, Cota said.

McDonald was stopped by Orange County sheriff’s deputies about an hour later, less than 20 miles south in San Clemente. He had blood on his clothing when he was taken into custody, according to a law enforcement source.

A knife believed to have been used in the slaying was recovered by police.

“Our hearts go out to the family,” Laguna Beach Police Chief Laura Farinella said Monday. “It’s a tragic incident. ... Sometimes bad things happen to good people and ... it’s sad.”

It’s a shock to the neighborhood, said Farinella, who described it as a “tight-knit community.”

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Though police had said that officers responded to previous domestic disturbance calls at the residence involving the mother and son, Farinella said they had responded to calls involving previous occupants but not Hampton and McDonald.

Still, neighbors told police they overheard multiple verbal disputes between Hampton and McDonald, authorities said.

Police said they have not determined a motive in the killing.

The last reported homicide in Laguna Beach was in 2012.

Los Angeles Times staff writer Hannah Fry and KTLA contributed to this report.

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Updates:
6:00 PM, Aug. 19, 2019: This article was originally published at 11:07 a.m. and has been updated with additional information and comments.

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