Lauren McClelland was staying about 50 yards away from Beaudette in Malibu State Park when she heard the shooting that killed him last month

By Christine Pelisek
July 19, 2018 03:09 PM
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It was already getting late on June 21 by the time Lauren McClelland arrived at picturesque Malibu Creek State Park in California for a weekend camping trip. The 27-year-old college student set up her tent in a canyon in the park and spent some time with her fellow church mates from Glendale Presbyterian before she went to bed around 11 p.m.

“It was super quiet,” she tells PEOPLE. “Not a ton of people there yet.”

Her peaceful slumber was shattered hours later, around 4 a.m. on June 22, when she woke abruptly to the sound of gunfire.

“It sounded like four shots, one after another,” McClelland recalls, noting that perhaps what she heard included reverberations from the canyon walls. “I am not sure if it was actually four gunshots, but it sounded like four clear gunshots.”

She waited in the pre-dawn darkness, thinking “maybe some stupid kid got a hold of a toy gun or something else they shouldn’t have and are playing around.”

“I was wide awake and just trying to listen very carefully,” she says, “and I didn’t hear anything and I thought, Should I go up and check? But something kept me from doing that, and I am really glad I didn’t.”

That decision may have saved her life.

At another campsite about 50 yards away, the gunfire McClelland overheard left 35-year-old scientist Tristan Beaudette dead inside his tent.

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Tristan Beaudette (right) and his family
| Credit: GofundMe

The young father — who had worked as a researcher at Allergan, a pharmaceutical company — was camping with his 2-and 4-year old daughters at the park while his wife, Erica Wu, a resident in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, Irvine, stayed home to study for an upcoming exam.

Beaudette was fatally shot in the head. His daughters were in the tent with him but were uninjured. Authorities have not confirmed how many times he was shot.

Weeks later, the case has yet to be solved and a motive remains unknown. Investigators are actively on the hunt for the killer and are also probing a possible connection between the homicide and previous reports of gunfire in the area in the last two years, though no tie has been established.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, the city of Malibu and Allergan offered a combined $30,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect in Beaudette’s slaying.

“Right now there are a lot of unknowns,” says L.A. County sheriff’s Lt. Rodney Moore.

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Stephen Finkel, who was at the same campsite as McClelland that night in June, says he and his wife didn’t hear gunfire but were awakened the next morning by a sheriff’s deputy.

“He asked a bunch of questions,” Finkel, a pastor at Glendale Presbyterian Church, tells PEOPLE. “The primary question was, Was everyone safe inside the tent? And he asked if anybody was missing from the area or inside our tent.”

Finkel says the deputy also asked him if he had a weapon.

“I told him no and it was kind of a blur,” he says. “It was so early in the morning. I thought maybe somebody had been a bad neighbor to the community and they were trying to figure out what happened. I did not think somebody had been murdered.”

The scene at Mailbu Creek State Park after Tristan Beaudette was fatally shot there in June
| Credit: Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times/Getty
Tristan Beaudette (center) and his two daughters
| Credit: Courtesy Beaudette Family

McClelland says she didn’t learn about Beaudette’s death until later that morning when she drove through the area with one of her fellow campers.

She saw caution tape “all around,” she says, and evidence of a family’s outing cut short: tricycles and children’s bikes and “a pair of sandals outside the larger tent where they were photographing.”

Almost a month later, McClelland says she is still shaken up.

“It is very sad,” she says. “It is a really lovely spot, but I don’t know if I will ever go back at this point. I hope [the police] figure it out because it is just the saddest thing I have ever heard.”

Anyone with information on Beaudette’s murder or other shootings at Malibu Creek State Park should contact the homicide bureau of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department at 323-890-5500 or Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.