CARLSBAD — Tucked away on the north side of Agua Hedionda Lagoon, the Laguna Del Mar development is a sleepy enclave with access to one of the city’s best lagoons.
But in the early hours of March 11, the neighborhood, and by extension the city, was rocked as news spread of the brutal murder of Marjorie Gawitt, affectionately known to her friends and neighbors as Marj.
Gawitt was stabbed 50 times and died at a local hospital about an hour after the attack. Ian Bushee, 37, and Malissa James, 26, were arrested by Carlsbad police within hours and the two were arraigned in Vista Superior Court last week on murder, burglary and auto theft charges plus a charge of torture for James.
Several neighbors, who asked not to be identified, spoke about the shocking and horrifying event. Still reeling from the incident, the three said Gawitt was a friendly, lovely and caring person.
All commended her strength, noting she survived the initial attack to call 9-1-1 and make it to the hospital.
“It’s a horrible crime that never should have happened,” said a former neighbor who now lives in San Marcos. “We need more communication. This hit us all at our doorsteps and hearts.”
Carlsbad was ranked the sixth safest city of its size in the country in 2018 by Business Insider. Murder is a rare crime in the city, as this is just the third homicide since 2014, according to Carlsbad Police Department Lt. Greg Koran.
The police department hosted a community meeting on March 20 at the Carlsbad Safety Training Center to answer questions, give tips on home and personal safety, address community concerns and allow people to grieve. Koran advised residents if they see something, say something.
Koran said there were two murders last year, with one case still working its way through the courts and the other a murder-suicide. A murder-for-hire plot in 2016 resulted in the convictions in 2017 of Diana Lovejoy and Weldon McDavid Jr., who were both sentenced to life in prison.
Gawitt’s case, though, was so shocking because of its randomness, the neighbors said. One of the neighbors said Bushee and James allegedly burgled another home in the neighborhood prior to entering Gawitt’s residence, which was confirmed by Koran.
The burgled homeowner, meanwhile, was asleep at the time of the crime, the neighbors said, which may have saved her life.
In addition, the neighbors said another resident in the neighborhood reported to police seeing the two alleged killers scale their backyard fence prior to the slaying, but a patrol car did not locate the two, which was also confirmed by Koran.
Still, Koran said investigators are working to get as much evidence as possible to the District Attorney’s office before the preliminary hearing and other court dates.
“Obviously, there is still a lot of wrapping up in the initial stages so we can present to the DA,” he added. “We are still actively working on that.”
Several days after Gawitt’s murder, the homeowner’s association held a meeting with police to discuss the case and safety measures. The neighbors said police didn’t reveal much because of the ongoing investigation and court proceedings.
Still, many have a heighted sense of awareness. One of the neighbors, an elderly woman, said she already has a .22-caliber gun and baseball bat, although she’s hesitant to use either because it would take too long to load the firearm and she could be overpowered and have the bat used against her, she said.
Another neighbor, who now lives in San Marcos, said alarms, cameras and communication are key. He said acquiring phones numbers of next-door neighbors and being able to use their homes as safe houses in case of an illegal entry could be a lifesaver.
“It’s our hour of healing,” one of the neighbors said. “We have to stay cohesive.”
Steve Puterski covers Carlsbad and Vista. For tips or story ideas, contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @StevePuterski.