A gunman who shot and killed his estranged wife, a student and himself at a San Bernardino elementary school Monday had made threats against the woman before but she didn’t take them seriously, according to police.
San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said at a news conference Tuesday that special education instructor Karen Smith had been concerned about her husband Cedric Anderson’s behavior just prior to the shooting at North Park Elementary School.
Smith and Anderson had been married for just two months when she moved out of her house in Riverside, spurred by his accusations that she had been unfaithful to him, Burguan said.
Smith, 53, spent the next month staying with her adult children in Moreno Valley and Riverside, as Anderson contacted her repeatedly trying to persuade her to come home, Burguan said.
“She had mentioned that his behavior was odd and that she was concerned about his behavior and that he had made some threats towards her,” the chief said.
Anderson had threatened his wife multiple times but did not specifically say he would shoot her, Burguan said.
Smith resisted moving back in with Anderson, but “didn’t necessarily take those threats serious,” Burguan said. “She thought he was reaching out for attention.”
Anderson fired 10 shots with a Smith & Wesson .357 magnum revolver inside a North Park classroom, stopping once to reload, Burguan said. The rounds struck his wife and two children next to her, before Anderson turned the weapon on himself. Only one of the children survived.
Burguan told reporters that there was no verification that the infidelity accusation was true.
Smith’s colleagues at North Park, where she had worked since 2015, only knew that she was a newlywed. She didn’t mention that she had left her husband.
“She effectively kept her private life private,” Burguan said. “They were both adults and they had adult children, so it’s not like there were a lot of people who were truly engaged in their business.”
School employees did not realize anything was amiss when Anderson arrived at the campus Monday morning. Security camera footage shows him walking around the perimeter of the school, trying to open doors that were locked, before walking to the front office to check in, San Bernardino City Unified School District Supt. Dale Marsden said.
An employee there recognized him as Smith’s husband, Marsden said, and after asking him to sign in, allowed him to walk alone to her classroom, which is not uncommon for family members of teachers and other employees, he said.
“They knew nothing about the crisis they were in,” Marsden said. “There was no indication to anyone on staff that there was a potential threat.”
Smith died at the scene. Jonathan Martinez, 8, was airlifted to a hospital and died before entering surgery.
A 9-year-old boy who was injured by gunfire was at Loma Linda Medical Center was listed in serious condition Tuesday morning. Authorities have not released his name.
Marsden said counselors met with Jonathan’s parents on Tuesday.
He said the boy had Williams syndrome, a rare congenital disorder.
Hours after the shooting Monday night, hundreds of people gathered at a Catholic church in San Bernardino on Monday night to mourn the victims.
“Sometimes all we can do is cry. And today is the day for that,” said Bishop Gerald Barnes, of the Diocese of San Bernardino. “We’ll get up again, we’ll move on, we’ll become stronger. But today is the day to cry, that we have come to such a state.”
The crowd came from all parts of San Bernardino. They included students who had been evacuated from their school; parents, teachers and volunteers who had rushed to Cajon High School in the afternoon to offer help; and longtime city residents who had watched yet another local tragedy play out on live television.
Barnes recounted the horror of the day, while asking those gathered to look toward the good.
“To see eyes of the parents filled with terror and anxiety, waiting to see how their child was, to see the children running up to their parents, to see those hugs, one can only imagine what that was like,” he said. “There’s a goodness there. There’s a beauty there… but we do cry, because innocent life was lost.”
Marsden offered condolences to the families of the victims.
“We want you to know that our hearts are broken, as yours are, and we are also looking to you and to each other as we begin today as the first step toward our healing together.”
Mayor R. Carey Davis said the shooting had affected the city’s most vulnerable residents — its children.
“I’m sorry our students, parents and teachers have suffered these events,” he said. “But I find comfort in joining with you in prayer and hope for the families impacted.
Later, after the mourners had gathered briefly outside, carrying candles and offering more prayers, Marsden urged parents to talk with their children about what had happened on Monday.
“We need to talk to them, we need to let them tell their stories, and more than once,” he said.
Grief counselors were on hand Tuesday to support students, parents and staff.
“As a result of this tragedy, North Park Elementary will be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday and Del Vallejo Middle School will serve as a temporary location to provide counseling and support services to North Park staff members, parents and students on Tuesday and Wednesday,” the school district said in a statement.
The district attempted to reassure parents concerned about school safety, saying it was taking “extra precautions to ensure all our schools are safe.”
The gunman, a 53-year-old Riverside resident, had a criminal history, including weapons charges and “a domestic violence past” that preceded his relationship with Smith, Burguan has told reporters. Los Angeles County Superior Court records show that Anderson was charged in July 2013 with assault and battery, brandishing a firearm and disturbing the peace.
San Bernardino Police Lt. Mike Madden said Tuesday that Anderson had not been convicted of a criminal charge in Torrance however, and that it appeared it was lawful for him to own a firearm.
Burguan said it was “not uncommon” for a person to be able to gain access to a campus to meet his or her spouse.
Marsden said the school's staff followed entry procedures, including asking Anderson for identification.
Anderson was known to the school’s staff, he said.
“As with any policy, we want to take all things that we learned… and revise any work that we do,” Marsden said.
Armed security officers are not assigned to any of the district’s elementary schools, said Maria Garcia, a school district spokeswoman. But she described security on the North Park campus as “very, very tight.”
Smith’s mother, Irma Sykes, said her daughter and Anderson had been friends for about four years before getting married in January.
A month after they moved in together, Anderson showed a different side to his personality and Smith “decided she needed to leave him,” Sykes said in a telephone interview.
She said her daughter pursued a teaching career after raising four children. Smith earned a degree and teaching credentials at Cal State San Bernardino about a decade ago, Sykes said, because she had a passion for helping children with autism and learning disabilities.
Rachel Valles' son, second-grader Ethan Valles, was in Smith's class at North Park. He wasn't in school on Monday when the shooting happened, and his mother was at once relieved and devastated at the loss of her son's teacher and his classmate.
"I want to feel happy," she said. "At the same time, I'm heartbroken."
Smith was a loving, dedicated and patient teacher, Valles said. When her son started her class this year, he had difficulty reading anything more than basic words, she said.
But Smith was persistent in working with him. She offered students small prizes — things like a balloon or a ball — when they read 15 books, and Ethan thrived under her guidance, Valles said. Smith would describe to her how Ethan's eyes lit up every time he learned a new word.
"She did so much for him," Valles said. "I would ask her, 'How do you do it?'"