A 34-year-old man was charged Tuesday with murder in the death of his mother at the Laguna Beach home they shared.
Matthew Bryson McDonald was arraigned in the Orange County Central Jail courthouse on one count of murder with a sentencing enhancement allegation of use of a deadly weapon, a knife, according to court records. He did not enter a plea, records show.
His mother, Megan Estes Hampton, 61, was intending to attend church Sunday morning with her best friend, a weekly ritual they had.
Instead, just as the 10:45 service began at Laguna Beach’s Church by the Sea, police swarmed Hampton’s house in the Laguna Terrace Park mobile-home community at 30802 S. Coast Hwy. Her best friend, who lives up the street in the tight-knit neighborhood, had just found Hampton dead in her home.
Moments before, neighbors had noticed McDonald behaving nervously and erratically outside the home, witnesses told police.
Social media users who said they live nearby reported hearing screaming coming from the home. Neighbors told police they’ve overheard multiple verbal disputes between the mother and son.
According to court documents, Hampton was the conservator of her adult son, who has catatonic schizophrenia and “requires direction to maintain consistent grooming habits, requires assistance in preparation of meals, is unable to drive and is unable to handle his personal affairs.”
Jay Grant, a 17-year pastor at Church by the Sea, said Tuesday that Hampton devoted herself to caring for McDonald.
“She loved him, did everything in her power to try to get him help and improvement, diet and therapy and all kinds of things,” Grant said. “I’ve never known a mother as devoted as Megan Hampton was to Matthew.”
Hampton and her son moved to Laguna Beach from Upland in 2015, according to the Claremont Courier newspaper. They made a home in Laguna Terrace Park, perched above the sea just up South Coast Highway from the Montage Laguna Beach resort. Plants lined the back wall of their house. Hummingbirds flitted to bird feeders on the porch.
“I’m just here to say that dreams do come true,” Hampton wrote in a Facebook post four years ago. “An ocean view and beautiful sanctuary to gather with friends and family.”
Though Hampton’s life in Laguna Beach was often swayed by the effects of her son’s illness, she loved her adopted city, Grant said. He saw her twice with her best friend at the Sawdust Art & Craft Festival this summer, enjoying the work of a fellow church member.
Tributes to Hampton came from throughout the region after her death. Laguna Terrace Park residents gathered Tuesday afternoon to mourn her.
On Monday morning, her neighbors exchanged hugs and condolences. Candles and flowers adorned the sidewalk outside her house. And that evening, the Courier reported, people shared memories of her at Claremont’s Memorial Park.
Hampton’s neighbors recalled waving hello to her on her daily walks with her dog, a mastiff. Sometimes McDonald walked with her, neighbors said, or he went walking by himself. He didn’t say much, they said.
Caring for her son often took a toll on Hampton, Grant said. The pastor met with her several times to pray and offer encouragement.
“She had great character, was tender-hearted and loving and pleasant to be around,” Grant said. “But I always knew that it was not ... an easy life for her, taking care of him.”
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.”
According to the Claremont Courier and school yearbooks, Hampton graduated from Claremont High School in 1976 and married classmate Tom McDonald in 1978.
Matthew McDonald was born in 1984 and the couple divorced three years later. Sometime after the divorce, Tom McDonald moved to Laguna Beach, according to the Courier.
Hampton later married Wade Lee Hampton Sr., who owned Hampton’s Meats and Deli in Claremont. Megan Hampton worked on the delicatessen’s business operations for 12 years alongside her husband, the Courier reported.
Wade Hampton, who died of cancer in 2012, played an active role in Matthew McDonald’s formative years, fundraising for a new football stadium and leading the football and baseball booster clubs while his stepson was in high school, according to the Courier.
Matthew McDonald played quarterback for the Claremont High football team and was honored as an Offensive Back of the Year. In the spring, he played baseball. Between sports seasons, he worked at his stepfather’s deli.
But in 2007, four years after McDonald’s high school graduation, his parents were granted conservatorship of their then-22-year-old son in San Bernardino County Superior Court. Conservatorship is an arrangement in which a judge appoints a responsible party to care for an adult who is found unable to cope alone. At the time, Megan Hampton lived in Upland and Tom McDonald in Laguna Beach, court records show.
A judge determined that Matthew McDonald was “unable to properly provide for his personal needs for physical health, food, clothing or shelter” and that “there is no form of medical treatment for which the conservatee has the capacity to give an informed consent,” according to court documents.
After Tom McDonald’s death from cancer in 2010, Megan Hampton became her son’s sole conservator. She was granted “exclusive authority” to give consent for and require her son to receive medical treatment, “even if the conservatee objects,” court documents show.
Records of court proceedings from 2007 to 2018 indicate that at various times Matthew McDonald objected to the conservatorship, only to withdraw his objections. He last formally withdrew an objection to the conservatorship in 2014.
McDonald became a suspect in his mother’s killing after neighbors told investigators that they saw him leave the home quickly Sunday, backing into a mailbox with her car before speeding off. The scene was unusual, neighbors told police, because he hadn’t driven in several months.
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.
McDonald was booked into Orange County Jail with bail set at $1 million and is scheduled back in court Sept. 6, court and jail records show.
Los Angeles Times staff writer Hannah Fry contributed to this report.