A Southern California man fatally stabbed his mother and uncle Monday while the woman was on a video call with co-workers, authorities said.
The man, Robert Cotton, 32, was arrested on two counts of murder, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The victims, Carol Brown, 67, and Kenneth Preston, 69, were his mother and uncle, Lt. Barry Hall of the Sheriff’s Department said Wednesday.
It was not clear what led to the attacks, which took place in Altadena, about 15 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles. Hall said the Sheriff’s Department was not aware of a motive for the stabbings.
Erika Endrijonas, president of Pasadena City College, where Brown had been an employee for nearly 15 years, said in a statement that “our PCC family suffered a terrible loss,” adding that counseling services were being made available “to members of our community who were directly impacted by this tragedy.”
Four people were on the video call at the time of the attack, according to Alexander Boekelheide, a spokesman for the college. The school did not release the names of the employees on the call.
Around 2:45 p.m. Monday, two sheriff’s deputies responded to a call about a possible kidnapping in progress, the department said in a statement.
When the deputies arrived, they found Preston, who had been stabbed several times, dead in the driveway of the house, according to the statement. When the deputies checked inside the residence, Brown was also found dead.
During the investigation, detectives learned that Brown had been on a Zoom call with her co-workers when the attack took place. Hall said one of the four people on the call, a woman, had called the police.
Hall said detectives found a large hunting knife at the scene. Detectives also learned that a Lexus SUV was missing from the residence. About 90 minutes into the investigation, a man, later identified as Cotton, returned to the property driving one of the victim’s vehicles.
“He parked the car about a half-mile from the scene,” Hall said, adding that Cotton walked over and tried to bypass the yellow caution tape that deputies had set up. He identified himself to the deputies as a resident.
Cotton, who worked at one point as a security guard, was arrested and booked on two counts of murder at Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles. His bail was set at $2 million, according to jail records. He has a court date set for Thursday.
In her years at Pasadena City College, Brown worked in financial aid and student services, Boekelheide said. Most recently, she served as the co-coordinator of the school’s Black STEM program, which provides opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to Black students through coaching and internships, according to a college spokesman.
Christopher West, an assistant professor of history at the college, described Brown “as a spirit constantly restless to support the souls and bodies of those marginalized in higher education.”
The homicide is the latest example of attacks being witnessed by people working remotely while using video calls during the pandemic.
In August, Donald Williams, 27, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of his ex-girlfriend Maribel Rosado Morales, 32, in front of her children, including one who was on a Zoom call with her class, said Sheriff William Snyder of Martin County, Florida.
In May, Thomas Scully-Powers, 32, of Long Island, New York, was arrested and charged with murdering his father, Dwight Powers, 72, who was stabbed more than a dozen times while he was on Zoom chat with about 20 people, authorities said.