By Cece Woods, Editor in Chief
*Originally published on thelocalmalibu.com March 28th, 2021.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Long before the pandemic, law-enforcement defunding and the-worst-presidential-election-drama-ever was the first of a series of events, the murder of Tristan Beaudette at Malibu Creek State Park, which became a turning point for our community, forever changing Malibu as we once knew it.
For those of us who lived through the shootings and Beaudette’s tragic death, we all know there was only one thing that truly stopped the shootings. The devastating Woolsey Fire which ravaged through the area less than one month after suspect Anthony Rauda was arrested in connection with Beaudette’s death and several other shootings that occurred in the area over a two year period.
Although former Sheriff Jim McDonnell (who was at the helm of the Sheriff’s Department at the time) and his propaganda pushing local press would have you believe the shooter was safely behind bars (just in time for the 2018 Sheriff’s election), those of us who were actively investigating, believed otherwise. And to that fact, multiple reports of shootings continued immediately after the high profile arrest up until the day of the Woolsey Fire.
While many national publications such as Hollywood Reporter, GQ, Outside Magazine and the The New Yorker have made attempts to delve into this tragic story with “exclusive” interviews with the Beaudette family and “sources”, one will never be able to tell the true story of the lies and cover-ups surrounding this case unless you are a trusted part of the community.
This is the first installment of a multi-part series updating details in our investigation into the shootings as the man accused of Beaudette’s murder, Anthony Rauda, is currently awaiting trial. In this series, we reveal new information about the two-year law enforcement cover-up exposed by our publication, The Local Malibu, the events leading up to Rauda’s capture and the shootings that continued even after the alleged suspect was “safely” behind bars.
In fact, reports of shots occurring at the “witching hour”, the same time as the reports of shots fired during the Malibu Creek State Park Shootings, still occur in the area known as Dark Canyon to this day.
Dark Canyon is also the location where Mitrice Richardson’s body was found 10 months after she disappeared after being released under suspicious circumstances from the Lost Hills Station in September of 2009. Elaine Park went missing in Dark Canyon in January of 2017, followed by Matthew Weaver Jr., who went missing in August of 2018, during the height of the shootings. This was another global story our publication broke during that time – one of the darkest our community has ever seen.
For those of you not familiar with our 27-mile long slice of paradise, the best way to describe Malibu is like a breathtakingly beautiful, yet complicated woman.
Celebrities want her, artists paint her.
She is fiercely protected by environmentalists whose sole focus is guarding her pure crystal blue gaze. We honor her need to breathe and fight to preserve the open space around her.
Her bold, dangerous curves that wind through the canyon can kill you, yet are desired by the most sought after sports cars in the world.
Many of us who migrated to Malibu long ago were drawn to her peaceful quiet beauty. While many who live here have chosen a path of financial freedom, there are those of us who believe we are rich simply by the quality of life we live surrounded by such beauty.
We work hard to live in Malibu and we fight like hell to protect her. Given this idyllic setting, you can imagine why so many are fascinated by Malibu.
THE TIDE HAS TURNED
It was the first official weekend of summer in 2018. Locals had already started preparing for the annual onslaught of beach-goers before the Memorial Day holiday a few weeks before.
The summer season to locals is quite simply, “survival mode”. Close to 2 million visitors pass through Malibu every year, with the majority making their way through the center of town, to one of the many public beaches that hug our coastline. When the weekend arrives, locals hunker down and prepare for pretty much anything.
Anything except for murder that is.
On June 22, 2018, our quiet celebrity-studded coastal town awoke to the news that a young father, Tristan Beaudette, 35, was shot to death while he lay sleeping in his tent next to his two young daughters at Malibu Creek State Park.
At the time of the murder, I was (and still am) the Editor in Chief of The Local, a print and online publication mostly dedicated to local Malibu politics and the environment. Our platform “The Voices of Malibu” was, and continues to be, a trusted news source. Residents listen to what we have to say, which has resulted in the top vote-getters of every City Council race we have been involved in and successfully passing multiple pro-preservation ballot measures.
Another heavy focus of The Local was public safety. Not because of crime, which had been pretty non-existent at the time, but because of the dangers PCH and driving through the canyons, which between the two, has been the scene of many fatal crashes. Up until Beaudette’s murder, traffic fatalities were the single most feared cause of death in our community.
A senseless murder anywhere is difficult to process. A senseless murder of a father camping with his two young daughters in the majestic beauty of our local campground? That is next to impossible to compute – for anyone – whether you live here or not.
As I went through the different stages of emotions that day for the tragic loss for the Beaudette family and two young girls losing their father, I also deeply felt the winds of dramatic change for our community and the loss of sudden loss of feeling safe. Something very foreign to locals.
The night of the murder, as I was laying in bed unable to sleep, still emotionally drained from processing the day’s events, my phone pinged at 11:05 p.m. with a private message on The LocalFacebook page.
A local resident informed me that a Tesla, owned by a community member, was shot in the hood, four days before Beaudette’s murder, at approximately the same time and place, just outside Malibu Creek State Park. The moment I received that message, it was apparent there was potentially a very dangerous public safety threat in our community.
I immediately cropped the identifying information from the message and posted it on our Facebook page as a public safety notification that there could be a sniper in Malibu Canyon.
The next morning, as I expected, I woke up to a flurry of responses.
What I didn’t expect was to wake up to was responses from previous victims of shootings both inside and outside the park. I was floored when I read the post of one victim, Meliss Tatangelo, complete with the video of the slug that came within an inch of killing her while she slept in her vehicle.
Tatangelo also revealed her friend, James Rogers, was sleeping in a hammock not far from where she camped was shot at just a few months before.
It became abundantly clear the facebook post I published in the wee hours of the morning after Beaudette’s murder warning about the community about a potential sniper, was the single most important act that led to exposing the two-year law enforcement cover-up in the Malibu Creek State Park Shootings.
As news stations became aware of the post exposing the law enforcement cover-up, I was asked if wanted to g0 on camera and talk about it.
“You’re damn right I do.”
WHERE THERE IS DARKNESS…
At the time of Beaudette’s murder, a dark, ominous cloud had been hanging over the Lost Hills Station for the better part of nine years.
On September 17th 2009, Mitrice Richardson was released under suspicious circumstances from the Lost Hills Station after being arrested at Geoffrey’s restaurant for failure to pay her bill (legal term is defrauding an innkeeper) and possession of under an ounce of marijuana.
Despite communication between the station and her mother to ensure Mitrice’s safety while in custody, she was released shortly after midnight with no cell phone, no money and no transportation.
Off she went into the night, only a few miles from Malibu Creek State Park, never to be seen again. Her partially mummified body was found 10 months later just 1.5 miles from where she was last seen and six miles from the station.
Since 2009, our community has had three high profile missing persons cases, Mitrice Richardson, Elaine Park and Matthew Weaver. All three cases have had serious issues with investigation protocols, search criteria, cover-ups and intentionally misleading the public and the media. There is one common denominator in all of these cases… Sgt. Tui Wright who who was the head of Malibu Search and Rescue during every one of these cases dating back to the Richardson case.
From the very beginning of this case, the Lost Hills Station, specifically the head of Malibu Search and Rescue, Sgt. Tui Wright, and former Malibu Liasion, Lt. Jim Royal, made every attempt to sabotage my efforts getting any information – even the most basic, non-threatening details about the shootings (Royal and Wright would later be placed under Internal Affairs investigation for interfering and conducting their own separate investigation in the Malibu Creek State Shootings case).
A few months before Beaudette’s murder in March of 2018, an incident occurred with a local resident who was mistakenly targeted for a crime. When deputies arrived at the scene, they had ordered the young man to the ground, surrounded him with rifles pointed at his head.
Knowing my dedication to reporting on public safety and community related issues, the young man’s mother contacted me to tell me how traumatized her son was and how poorly the situation was handled by deputies at the scene. At one point, the mother, extremely upset, contacted Lt. Royal and informed him she had contacted me personally about reporting on the story.
His response to her?
“Stay away from Cece, she’s dangerous.”
When I was told about the comment he made, it struck me as odd. I had little to no contact previously with Lt. Royal other than seeing him in passing at Malibu City Council meetings. I knew he was familiar with my reporting, specifically my whistle blowing on corruption at Malibu City Hall, however, he did not know me personally.
In hindsight, that statement was extremely intuitive, if not fearful on his part. It was only a short time later I exposed the Lost Hill’s Sheriff’s station and the two-year cover-up in the Malibu Creek State Park shootings that led to the murder of Tristan Beaudette.
MAKE OUR MOUNTAINS SAFE AGAIN
Needless to say, the Malibu Creek State Park Shootings story went global very quickly and local, state and county officials were deep in damage control mode.
A few weeks before Beaudette’s murder, former Sheriff Jim McDonnell, well into campaign season for the November Sheriff’s election, sent an inner-department memo to essentially put a muzzle on releasing any information to anyone outside the department. McDonnell was already feeling the heat from wrongfully (and conveniently) accusing a black woman, Cherie Townsend, of murdering a wealthy Rolling Hills Estates resident in a “robbery gone wrong”at a local mall. There was nothing to tie Townsend to the case other than a cell phone at the location Townsend reported lost on May 3, 2018 – and of course Mc Donnell’s desperate need to take control of the narrative and stay in the running for the upcoming election which meant – nothing – I mean nothing – gets in the way of a political win – not even wrongfully accusing someone of murder.
Fast forward a few months to August 19th, 2018, almost two months after Beaudette’s murder, reports of shots fired were still on-going with the station downplaying them as “cars backfiring, transformer explosions, firecrackers” – basically attempting to mislead the public into thinking the noises they were hearing were anything but a firearm. Every time deputies responded to the location where the shots were reported, the official outcome of their search was “no evidence was found”.
As you can imagine, after the cover-up was exposed, the community was far from confident in any information coming from the Sheriff’s Department which prompted residents to reach out lawmakers demanding answers.
The outcome of the outcry by the community? The “Make Our Mountains Safe” meeting hosted by Malibu native Senator Henry Stern at King Gillette Ranch.
While residents got nothing out of the dog and pony show disguised as the “Make Our Mountains Safe Again” meeting, I most certainly did.
Two months of consistent reporting with tips overflowing my inbox from community members – not one from law enforcement mind you – led to rattling a few cages – specifically those of Sgt. Tui Wright and Lt. Jim Royal.
Shortly before the meeting, a local resident and member of the Sheriff’s department who was now a reserve deputy, was summoned into Lt. Royal’s office where he was interrogated by both Royal and Sgt. Wright who assumed the reserve deputy was the “leak” supplying me information I was reporting back to the community (when in fact, he wasn’t).
As the reserve deputy was being grilled by the officers, who threatened to remove him from his position if he was in fact supplying me with information, Sgt. Wright looked at him and said “She knows too much”.
Were there leaks at the station? Of course there were.
But the law enforcement leaks at the time were never in contact with me. They were in contact with members of the community, who in turn supplied me with behind-the-scenes, privileged communication.
Shortly after that, I came face to face with Sgt. Wright at the “Make Our Mountains Safe Again” meeting as I was standing in the entry way of auditorium at King Gillette Ranch where he approached me.
“Are you Cece Woods?” he asked me.
“Yes” I replied.
We barely got the formalities out of the way when Sgt. Wright immediately started talking about my reporting and cautioned me “I just want make sure you’re not putting out bad information.”
Shocked by that statement, I responded “Bad for who? Bad as in ‘false’? Or bad for you?”.
The continued attempts by the LASD to cover-up and silence those who were intent on getting answers in this case was becoming increasingly overwhelming. The only reason to stop someone from discovering the truth is because you have something to hide.
From the beginning, it was no secret members of the Sheriff’s Department thought the shooter was one of their own – and what we discovered about how the case was mishandled from the moment they showed up at the murder scene, only convinced us more.
*To be continued. Part two will be published next week. Please go to thelocalmalibu.com to read all of our original articles from the Malibu Creek State Park Shootings.