San Bernardino gunman had a history of domestic abuse allegations

No one at North Park Elementary School knew the private anguish of special education teacher Karen Smith.

In March, after two months of marriage, Smith, 53, had left her husband. But Cedric Anderson refused to let her go.

Anderson reached out to her repeatedly and tried to persuade her to return. He had made multiple threats against her, which she relayed to her family. Police said she was concerned by his behavior, but saw it as attention-seeking.

What Smith may not have known was that Anderson had a history of allegations of violence made by at least two other women with whom he had been romantically involved.

One accused him of trying to suffocate her with a pillow and threatening her with a butcher knife, according to court papers. He once bluntly told his ex-wife that she would die, she stated in court proceedings.

On Monday, Anderson’s propensity for violence brought him to his wife’s school, where surveillance footage showed him searching for an unlocked door.

An employee there recognized him as Smith’s husband, and after asking him to sign in, allowed him to walk alone to her classroom. That’s not an uncommon practice for family members of teachers and other employees, San Bernardino City Unified School District Supt. Dale Marsden said.

In Smith’s classroom, Anderson fired 10 shots from a Smith & Wesson revolver — stopping at one point to reload — then fatally shot himself.

Smith died at the scene. Two children were also struck; one, Jonathan Martinez, 8, was airlifted to a hospital and died before entering surgery. A 9-year-old boy was listed in serious condition Tuesday at Loma Linda University Medical Center. His name has not been released.

Since the shooting, police have visited addresses linked to Anderson and scoured his past — including his stint as a preacher and handyman in Las Vegas. Investigators interviewed Smith’s family and friends, probing her husband’s recent actions, San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said Tuesday.

The inquiry has focused on what transpired during the couple’s marriage and what drove him to carry a gun into the school, where Smith’s colleagues knew nothing of the trouble at home. Police said her co-workers still viewed her as a newlywed.

“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.”

Some saw hints of trouble. Lincoln Cooper, who runs a food bank in Perris, said he met Anderson by chance at a Riverside gas station last month. During the conversation, Anderson cast blame on his estranged wife’s family for keeping her away from him, Cooper said.

When Anderson spoke of his marriage, he often clenched his fists, and he admitted to calling Smith every day.

“He said, ‘I don’t know what to do. I can’t focus on anything else,’” Cooper recalled.

For Anderson, a self-professed pastor, allegations of brutality trailed his former relationships.

Nearly two decades ago, his then-wife sought a restraining order amid divorce proceedings after Anderson called her and told her she was going to die, according to court papers.

The separation turned even more bitter as the couple fought over the custody of three sons, who at the time were all younger than 10. She called her ex-husband a "habitual liar,” and he accused her of assaulting him.

As recently as 2016, Anderson was the subject of a domestic violence-related restraining order involving a former domestic partner, a woman in Torrance and her 12-year-old daughter.

The woman stated in court papers that she had been ironing clothes around Memorial Day 2013 when Anderson ran upstairs and pushed her onto the bed before grabbing a large butcher knife.

“He told me he was sick of me,” the woman recounted in court papers. The Times is not identifying the woman because she was an alleged victim of domestic violence.

Anderson had tried to suffocate her with a pillow, she said, after he learned she planned to go to karaoke with a female neighbor.

“He then put the pillow over my face and held it so I could not breathe," she wrote. “I fought as hard as I could…. I thought I would die that night.”

She told the court there was a pattern of abuse over several months. Police were called five times to their address.

Anderson was arrested by Torrance police in May 2013 and charged by Torrance city prosecutors with misdemeanor assault and battery, disturbing the peace and brandishing a weapon. The case was abandoned when the victim did not turn up to testify, Torrance police Sgt. Ronald Harris said.

Despite four arrests since 1982 on suspicion of theft, weapons and domestic violence, Anderson was never convicted of a crime.

He was allowed to obtain a gun, although the weapon he used Monday had been purchased in 1979 in Michigan. Police said Anderson was not the buyer listed in firearm records.

For those in San Bernardino and beyond, the cold-blooded killing of a teacher and her student has been devastating. Hundreds gathered late Monday at a Catholic church in San Bernardino to mourn the victims.

“Sometimes all we can do is cry,” said Bishop Gerald Barnes of the Diocese of San Bernardino.

Grief counselors met Tuesday with the parents of Jonathan Martinez, the young boy who was fatally shot.

His parents’ only son, Jonathan had already endured heart surgery and he was born with Williams syndrome, a congenital disorder that affects about 25,000 people nationwide.

He “was a happy child,” said Marsden, the superintendent.

Children with Williams syndrome are overly friendly and endearing, but are vulnerable to exploitation by strangers. The genetic disorder typically results in heart and kidney problems and other health ailments, officials said.

“If you’ve met a child with Williams syndrome, you just don’t forget it. They quickly have a way to light up a room,” said Terry Monkaba, executive director of the Williams Syndrome Assn. She did not know Jonathan or his family, but said his death was acutely felt by the community of parents and family of those with the disorder.

“We lose a handful of children every year to ... medical problems, and we all feel all of those deaths so personally,” Monkaba said. “This one, because it was so senseless and so tragic, it just makes it that much harder.”

Neighbors and friends of Jonathan described the boy as friendly and well-behaved, from a loving — and now grieving — family.

Francisco Hernandez, who lived next door to the family for three years, said his 6-year-old son would go on play dates at Jonathan’s house.

Hernandez said he was anxious over the challenge ahead, one felt by other parents in this Inland Empire community: having to inform a young child how a friend died while at school.

“I didn’t tell my son what happened,” Hernandez said. “I don’t know how.”

richard.winton@latimes.com

sonali.kohli@latimes.com

melissa.etehad@latimes.com

matt.hamilton@latimes.com

Twitter: @MattHjourno

Times staff writers Maya Lau, Laura Nelson, Veronica Rocha and Paloma Esquivel contributed to this report.

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