“It’s heavy. It’s so heavy,” said a surfing community insider who knew Matthew Taylor Coleman, having encountered him often at the beach. Coleman is the Santa Barbara surfing school owner who the FBI says confessed to killing his two children, a son 2 years old and a daughter only 10 months old, near Rosarito, Baja, Mexico, last week. The murders are generating devastation, disbelief, and anger community-wide, as well as apprehension and anxiety over how Coleman’s young surf school students might be taking the news.
The man who spoke with the Independent asked to remain anonymous, but he is someone who has taught surfing in the area for many years. Just a month ago, he said he had run into Coleman at a beach, and they stood together, watching their students surf. They talked about being dads and life in general, and Coleman seemed his usual cheerful self, speaking in terms of love and God, and of getting to teach his son to stand on a board. Santa Barbara’s surfing tribe was heartbroken, the surf instructor said, and shocked that someone who preached about right and wrong so frequently would all of a sudden do something so dark.
A surf student who had taken lessons from Coleman in the early 2010s was equally dumbfounded that a leader of his Christian surf camp could commit murder. Coleman had struck him as an adamant evangelical and also a typical Santa Barbara water guy: a sportsman, spearfisher, and surfer. “He was always very cheerful and upbeat, sometimes to the point of being a little unsettling,” the former student said, who broke with his Christian group in high school.
The Santa Barbara surfing community is a tight one, and the Christian surf community especially so. Calvary Chapel in Santa Barbara has held a surf ministry for years, which Coleman participated in, though he wasn’t a member of the congregation. Senior Pastor Tommy Schneider held a special call on the Wednesday after the murders were announced, giving his congregation time to talk about what they were feeling. He tried to comfort them and make sense of how a seemingly nice guy could go so wrong.
“We’ve seen people get carried away by things like conspiracy,” Pastor Tommy said he told his congregation. “It can be dangerous, although I’m not sure what that means for Matthew … As Jesus said: Don’t be deceived; walk in love. This walk for Matthew obviously changed course; he lost his focus.”
The conspiracy Schneider spoke of refers to Coleman’s statements alleged in an FBI affidavit, in which Coleman acknowledged he’d killed his children. He told the special agent that he had received visions and signs influenced by QAnon and Illuminati conspiracy theories and that he had to kill his son and his daughter lest they develop into monsters due to their mother’s “serpent DNA.”
When the children’s bodies were discovered brutally stabbed more than a dozen times, the Mexican police investigators believed the weapon may have been a wooden stake found near the scene, but Coleman later told the FBI he had used a fishing spear.
The surf-instructor acquaintance said that he had heard from other members of Santa Barbara’s surfing community, from people close to the Coleman family, that Coleman and his wife, Abby, had been researching QAnon and Illuminati theories over the past year. Coleman would bring it up with his friends, saying how crazy it sounded, but also how it kind of made sense.
The instructor said his school has been inundated with calls from parents whose children had attended Coleman’s school and were worried about how to talk about this with their kids, because most of the young students were well-acquainted with social media and knew about the murders.
Of teaching kids to surf, he said, “When you’re helping someone face their fears and realize their dreams, that’s never forgotten. The trust of a child is so sacred. Anyone who’s ever been betrayed by a family member or a mentor, you never, ever forget that.”
Coleman is being held in U.S. Marshal custody, Deputy Tlaloc Olvera confirmed, adding he could not speak to whether or not Coleman was in solitary or on any special watch status. On August 11, Coleman had appeared before a magistrate judge and was ordered detained without bail. He has yet to enter a plea and is being represented by federal public defenders, who had not returned answers to requests for comment by print deadline.