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Advocate for Malibu Lagoon restoration dies in apparent suicide

Stephenie Glas, a 35-year-old firefighter, was a target of heckling and angry emails from opponents of the Malibu Lagoon project.

June 11, 2012|By Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times

After a vocal advocate for the controversial Malibu Lagoon restoration turned a gun on herself late Saturday, some closest to her were left wondering if the increasing vitriol surrounding the project drove the 35-year-old over the edge.

Stephenie Glas, a Los Angeles city firefighter, shot herself in the head shortly before midnight at her boyfriend's Corral Canyon home, according to the boyfriend, Steve Woods. Authorities said only that a 35-year-old female died of "apparent suicide" at the home but did not release the woman's identity Sunday.

Los Angeles County coroner's officials said they had not yet concluded whether the death was a suicide.

Some close to Glas recalled the heckling and angry emails she received after she began voicing her support for the lagoon restoration about a year ago. When the project broke ground June 4, opponents surrounded Glas and hurled insults and profanity at her, thrust cameras in her face and bombarded her with questions, Woods recalled.

After park rangers escorted her away, Glas broke down in tears, friends said.

"I think that was one of the straws that broke her back," Woods said between sobs Sunday in a telephone interview. "The animosity, it was too much for her."

The four-month, $8-million project, which involves draining the polluted marsh and reshaping its channels, pitted environmental activists and locals who fiercely oppose it against the state, scientists and an outnumbered contingent of supporters that included Glas. The project has also split the surfing community, with some groups opposing the state's effort and others supporting it.

Glas was introduced to the issue by Woods, who is a longtime surfer at Surfrider Beach, which is adjacent to the wetlands.

"She was just one of those people once she found a cause, she was on it," said Cece Stein, a neighbor and friend who helped her start the website The Real Malibu 411, where Glas wrote about community issues including the lagoon. Stein said the incident at the groundbreaking appeared to be the "switch" that sent Glas on a downward spiral. During the week, she grew increasingly angry and agitated, Stein said.

On Saturday, Woods said, he argued with Glas about watching Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. He stepped out of the house hoping to let things cool down, and then he heard the gunshot, he said.

Glas was airlifted to Northridge Hospital Medical Center where she was pronounced dead about 11:20 p.m.

Woods said he received an outpouring of support and condolences Sunday from people on all sides of the restoration issue. Even those who had disagreed with Glas the most called to say they would remember her fondly, he said.

"I'm going to try to carry on Stephenie's spirit in some way," Woods said. "Carry the torch with an olive branch in one hand."

Times staff writers Martha Groves and Tony Barboza contributed to this report.

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