Karen Smith was teaching special needs students in a San Bernardino elementary school when her estranged husband walked silently into the classroom and opened fire.
Smith was killed, and one of her students, Jonathan Martinez, 8, also died because he was behind Smith when Cedric Charles Anderson started shooting with a .357 revolver, ABC7 reported.
On Facebook, Smith went by the name Karen Smith-Anderson, and both she and her husband prominently posted photos of themselves as a couple. On March 11, Anderson, who posted excessively about his wife on Facebook, wrote, “My wife Karen Smith-Anderson is an Angel!!!”
In March, Anderson posted Sade’s song “By Your Side” and wrote, “I’m getting loved like this! #karen. Thanks Baby!” They honeymooned in Sedona, he wrote.
People have now filled Anderson’s posts with prayers for Smith, 53, and anger at Anderson. Smith was remembered as a caring teacher devoted to special needs children and a mother of her own. Despite Anderson’s constant posts about his wife, her mother told the Los Angeles Times that she was trying to leave Anderson after discovering he was not what he seemed.
“Rest in peace, the job you held at the school shows what kind of heart you shared with others. May God bless you rest in peace,” wrote one woman of Smith. A man who grew up with Smith wrote, “She had such a beautiful spirit.”
Another friend responded to that comment and wrote, “I had also seen the news reports about the shooting before I knew that it was Karen. It’s just unbelievable. People who didn’t know her might think we’re exaggerating when we talk about what a sweet person she was, but you know and I know.”
Police said Anderson was a Riverside resident, according to NBC Los Angeles. Martinez, the child who died, initially survived the assault, but didn’t make it into surgery, police said.
The shootings unfolded in San Bernardino’s North Park Elementary School. In addition to the deaths of Smith, Martinez, and Anderson, one other student was also wounded and was in stable condition at the hospital, police said.
Children held hands as they were led out of the school in lines, in a scene eerily evocative of the initial images that emerged during the Sandy Hook tragedy.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Shooter Targeted Smith While She Was Teaching in What Police Called a Domestic Dispute & He Posted a Video About ‘Happy Wives, Happy Husbands’
Horrifically, the shooter walked into Smith’s classroom while she was in the middle of teaching special needs children. Police said in a news conference that he didn’t say anything – he just shot her.
The police chief said that Smith was standing toward the middle of the room, about 10 to 15 feet away from the shooter, standing in front of a table type desk. The two children who were shot were standing near her.
Anderson got into the school by pretending that he needed to drop something off for Smith, KTLA reported.
They hadn’t been married long. However, on Facebook, the gunman acted like he was in a happy marriage. “Happy wives, happy husbands,” he said in one video, while out to dinner with his wife and others.
Anderson’s Facebook page is filled with photos of the estranged couple. On one, he wrote, “date night.” Smith shared an einvite to the couple’s wedding, writing on January 8, “all are welcome to share our day!”
However, in late February, Anderson posted an odd video in which he said, “What I love about my wife? Boy. She’s making me really happy. She knows when to ignore me. That makes a happy marriage.” The post is titled, “I love being married to Karen Smith-Anderson!”
In mid February, he wrote, “Last night, cuddling, listening to the rain after watching my wife choice (girly movie). This morning ‘BAM!’ Breakfast is served! I love this lady!”
The wedding invite says “Karen & Cedric’s Wedding Day” and says the couple was married at Bethesda Temple Church in Los Angeles.
Some of the shooter’s posts are eerie in retrospect.
He also posted wedding photos.
Superintendent Dale Marsden said at a press conference that Anderson checked in at the school office and likely provided an ID, following normal procedures. Police said Smith taught in a multi-grade classroom. Essentially, it wasn’t hard for the shooter to obtain access to the school because he was the teacher’s husband, albeit estranged.
“We believe this to be a murder suicide. Happened in a classroom. Two students have been transported to the hospital,” wrote San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan on Twitter.
The identity of the second student was not immediately released. The Associated Press characterized the shooting as a “domestic dispute” and said the injured students were airlifted to the hospital.
Anderson also posted other videos of himself with Smith:
The AP reported shortly after the shooting that the wounded students were in critical condition, but Martinez then died before he could make it into surgery. He was remembered as a happy youth who had already overcome health challenges, including heart surgery. The other child is now on the road to recovery. The superintendent said in a news conference that the second child was “up and watching cartoons.”
San Bernardino police Capt. Ron Maass said Anderson “had gone to the classroom” to see Smith, and the children were wounded by being near her when he opened fire, KTLA reported.
2. Smith Taught Special Education Students & Was Remembered for Her Caring Nature With Them
The shooting unfolded in a special needs classroom.
According to the school district’s website, Smith was assigned to “SDC” classes.
SDC classes are generally “special day classes” where students receive instruction from a special education teacher in an environment with smaller class sizes.
One woman wrote on Facebook that Smith previously taught special education students at the high school level. “Karen I pray that you Rest In Peace. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being an angel for helping my daughter with her education during her 4 years at Cajon High School. You were such a kind, caring and patient woman. You were taken away from this life far too soo.😓 ❤️” the woman wrote. She wrote that Smith taught special needs students at the high school from 2010-2014.
In contrast, despite his happy demeanor on Facebook, Anderson had a dark past.
The police chief said in a news conference, that Anderson had four prior arrests dating from 1982 until 2013 – a weapons charge, domestic violence charge, and theft charge. None of those cases resulted in a conviction. He was not currently employed, and had a history as a maintenance man and a pastor.
The weapon used by Anderson was a Smith & Wesson 357 revolver, and 10 rounds were fired with 1 reload, police said. The chief said the gun was sold in 1975 in the state of Michigan. Police said they did find a note believe to be Anderson’s after the shooting, in which he talked about some things that needed closure and feeling disrespected but nothing to indicate that it was specifically a suicide note.
Anderson was seen on security footage trying other doors and school security measures forced him to a single entry point, the office, the superintendent said in the news conference.
News broke that there was an active shooter loose in the elementary school, but the incident was over fairly quickly, although not without cost.
The school spokeswoman told KTLA-TV that the shooting unfolded around 10:30 a.m. at the elementary school, located at 5378 N. H St. The initial call was for an active shooter, KTLA reported.
“Police said the children shot were not targeted and likely struck by accident,” reported ABC 7.
3. Smith & Anderson Were Estranged, Although the Shooter Called Her a ‘Pure Spirit’ in Excessive Admiration on Facebook
In a press conference, police said that Anderson and Smith were estranged, and their marriage was short-lived, lasting only a few months. The police chief said in a news conference that there was an allegation of infidelity in the marriage, and added that Smith’s family described Anderson’s behavior as odd and said Smith was concerned about it. Anderson had accused Smith of cheating on him, but there was nothing to indicate it was true, authorities said.
Anderson made some threats to his estranged wife, but not a specific threat to shoot her, but she didn’t necessarily consider the threats serious, the police chief said. School employees had no knowledge of the couple’s marital discord because Smith kept her private life private, the chief said.
Smith’s mother, Irma Sykes, told The Los Angeles Times that Smith was friends with Anderson first, for about four years, but Smith soon saw he was not what he presented. “She thought she had a wonderful husband, but she found out he was not wonderful at all. He had other motives,” Sykes said to the newspaper. “She left him and that’s where the trouble began. She broke up with him and he came out with a different personality. She decided she needed to leave him. She was going to divorce him.”
On Facebook, Anderson wrote flattering comments about his wife. In fact, they seem excessively over-the-top. For example, he wrote in February: “My worship was pure tonight. God is awesome! My wife Karen is such a pure spirit. She has no guile or pretense. She has no ill will toward anyone. (It amazes me!) Jesus said blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Karen’s essence is disarming. I’ve never meet anyone like her. Her strength is not in worldly wisdom, head games and manipulation. Her strength is in the essence of her purity. Her anchor is that she sees God. It is a joy to have a conversation with her. I praise God for such a wonderful Lady!”
In February, he wrote, “My wife is sexy!!!!! God – ‘That Woman!'” When a friend commented, “Enjoy! I’m glad you two found each other. Blessings!” Anderson responded, “I have found her!!!”
However, there were no major red flags visible to law enforcement in the relationship before the shooting, police said, and the school had no knowledge of prior domestic violence that might have prevented them from allowing Anderson inside the school to see his wife.
ABC7 reports that it took only four minutes for the police to arrive at the scene.
4. The Shooter Referred to Smith as his ‘Wonderful Little Wife’ & They Attended Bible Study Together
Anderson also filled his Facebook page with bizarre religious ramblings that mentioned Smith. In one, he wrote, “What??? Wow! My wife and I did a bible study on this last week.”
“After watching Greenleaf with my wonderful little wife,” he wrote on March 14, “she finally understands me and why I feel the way I do about many Black Churches and so called Pastors, especially those to whom Church is their entitlement to the family business and community money pot. God’s people are their slaves, servants or just some thing to use.”
He continued, “In the Black Church we have seen over the past 20 years an influx of former gangsters, pimps, hoes and the simple minded (who know they have no business being called a minister) starting churches and even organizations. The result is most Black churches and black church organizations are filled with witchcraft. The people’s faith is so damaged that they wouldn’t know the presence of God if he stood on their heads.”
He wrote two days before that, “My wife is in love with Greenleaf! I have to watch! LOL! What has Oprah done now!”
Anderson was a pastor, one woman wrote on Facebook.
Firefighters wore body armor to the scene, as the initial call came in as an active shooter, and it wasn’t clear at first what they were walking into.
“Police operations are continuing to secure the area. However, we do believe the threat is down,” the police chief initially wrote. The chief said that the students in the school were taken to an area college. “All kids have been taken to California State University San Bernardino,” the chief wrote.
There was a massive police response. The San Bernardino Fire Department wrote as the shooting news broke: “#SBCoFD on scene mult GSW victims at North Park School. Triage and victim count taking place.”
5. Smith Was a Mother of Four Whose Passion Was Helping Autistic Children
Smith’s mother told The Los Angeles Times that Smith had four adult children and had been a teacher for a decade. Her passion was “helping children with autism and learning disabilities,” and she followed in the footsteps of her mother, also a teacher, the Times reported.
Traumatized parents rushed to the scene after the shooting, CNN reported, looking for their children.
“I fell to my knees and started saying our father and hail Mary’s. … I’m gonna hug her. … I’m gonna hug her. I hope she is OK,” Brad Hendran, whose daughter is in the second grade, said, according to CNN.
Marissa Perez, 9, “was still wearing a sweater spattered with blood as she clung to her mother’s hip after they were reunited Monday afternoon, crying as she described the deadly attack,” the Los Angeles Times reported, quoting Marissa as saying, “The boy just walked in with the gun. He just shot everywhere. I went under the table and then I saw a teacher run out. So I just ran out. My friend and my teacher, they got shot.”