He was a pastor and a gentleman: ‘She thought she had a wonderful husband’

Karen Smith tied the knot in January with a man she had known for years.

A pastor her own age with a military background, Cedric Anderson seemed like a man of faith with whom she could share the next chapter of her life.

But after they wed and he moved into her Riverside home, another side of her new husband emerged.

Police say Anderson, 53, had previous domestic violence allegations against him, but it’s unclear what Smith experienced. Her mother said it was enough to break up with him and pursue divorce.

On Monday, the tumult of their brief marriage burst into a San Bernardino elementary school. Anderson walked into Smith’s special-needs classroom and opened fire, fatally wounding her before turning the gun on himself, police said. One of Smith’s students, an 8-year-old boy, was also struck by the gunfire and died. A second child was injured.

The violence has devastated Smith’s friends, family and colleagues. It has also exposed a troubled relationship between Anderson and Smith — two people with very different pasts who had once seemed so in love.

“She thought she had a wonderful husband, but she found out he was not wonderful at all,” said Smith’s mother, Irma Sykes. “He had other motives. She left him and that’s where the trouble began.”

At North Park Elementary School, Smith, 53, was known as a caring educator with a special affinity for working with children with learning disabilities. To her classroom, she brought the wisdom and patience of raising four children of her own, who are all now adults.

For some parents, Smith seemed like a miracle worker. Rachel Valles said Smith was persistent in helping her son, Ethan, improve his reading. At the start of the school year, he could read only basic words, but now gets excited by learning new vocabulary.

“She did so much for him,” Valles said. “I would ask her, ‘How do you do it?’ ”

Substitute teacher Diane Abrams said Smith “dedicated her life to her students.”

Smith, who spent most of her life in the Harbor City section of Los Angeles, had pursued a teaching career much later than other educators, earning a degree and her credentials about a decade ago, according to her mother.

She wanted to help children with autism and learning disabilities, taking after her mother, who was a teacher for 41 years.

As her career bloomed, Smith also ended her first marriage, after 21 years, in 2009, according to court records. At some point around 2013, she met Anderson.

He had lived around Atlanta, Las Vegas and towns across Southern California.

At some point in the late 1990s or early 2000s, Anderson participated in an expose by an NBC affiliate in Las Vegas about housing fees at Nellis Air Force Base, according to a copy of the segment that Anderson appears to have published on YouTube. The report said Anderson had been in the Navy for eight years and was married to a 19-year Air Force veteran who had been deployed to Pakistan.

But a military spokesman said Tuesday that there was no record of someone with Anderson’s name serving in the Navy.

Anderson had at least one son, about whom he spoke proudly on social media.

Najee Ali, a community activist in Los Angeles and executive director of Project Islamic Hope, said he knew Anderson as a pastor who attended community meetings.

"He was a deeply religious man,” Ali said of Anderson, who sometimes preached on the radio and joined community events. “There was never any signs of this kind of violence … on his Facebook he even criticized a man for attacking a woman."

His effect on Smith was obvious. One neighbor along Mt. Wasatch Drive in Riverside, who declined to be identified, recalled Smith becoming more outgoing and cheerful — a noticeable change from years past.

They seemed to be happy, the neighbor said, and once were overheard praying together, but never fighting.

In photos posted on social media, Smith and Anderson are seen on the beach, leaning toward each other and smiling, as Smith holds a small white dog in her lap. Another shows their legs crossed in front of a fireplace, with Smith’s flip-flop-clad foot touching Anderson’s leg.

After their Jan. 28 wedding at a church on Crenshaw Boulevard, the couple retreated to Sedona, Ariz., for a honeymoon.

“We are having such a good time,” Smith says in a video shared on Facebook after Anderson kisses and hugs her. “We are having a ball,” Anderson says into the camera, adding: “It’s been nice.”

Anderson seemed to relish the lighthearted squabbles of domestic life, saying in a Facebook video in late February: “What I love about my wife, boy. She is making me really happy. She knows when to ignore me,” he says, pausing to laugh. “That makes a happy marriage.”

But after about a month of living together, Smith put an end to it. She was contemplating divorce, her mother said, and police described them as estranged.

Although Smith’s mother declined to elaborate on what happened in the home, Anderson’s past may offer clues. San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said Anderson’s criminal history included allegations of domestic violence, weapons charges and possible drug charges.

Anderson lived in Torrance at least from 2012 to 2013, a period when Torrance police were called to his address on five occasions, according to Sgt. Ronald Harris. In 2012, he was arrested on suspicion of spousal battery, and the next year, he was arrested for allegedly brandishing a knife, Harris said.

In 2013, Anderson was charged in Los Angeles County Superior Court with assault and battery, brandishing a firearm and disturbing the peace. Court records, however, show that the charges were dismissed in May 2014.

Nearly two decades earlier in 1993, Anderson faced two misdemeanor counts of battery in Kern County Superior Court, but according to records, he was exonerated six months after the case was filed and both charges were dismissed.

Burguan said investigators are still piecing together information on what led to the couple’s estrangement.

It was that appearance of a happy union that allowed Anderson to get onto the school grounds so easily. When he stopped by the office to check in, his presence went unquestioned. No one saw a weapon, no one suspected anything was amiss between the couple until the gunfire.

“He killed her, and he killed himself,” Sykes, her mother, said. “And I want to see what he’s going to say to God about that.”

laura.nelson@latimes.com | Twitter: @laura_nelson

matt.hamilton@latimes.com | Twitter: @MattHjourno

Times staff writers Sonali Kohli, Paloma Esquivel, Veronica Rocha, Melissa Etehad, Ben Oreskes and James Queally contributed to this report.

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UPDATES:

8:30 a.m. April 11: This story was updated with more information about Anderson’s criminal record and a spokesman saying there was no record of Anderson serving in the Navy.

11:00 p.m.: This article was updated with details on an NBC report that Anderson appeared to have participated in.

This article was originally published at 10 p.m. April 10.

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