A teacher and an 8-year-old boy were shot and killed Monday morning at a San Bernardino elementary school when the teacher’s husband opened fire inside a special needs classroom before turning the gun on himself, police said.
Cedric Anderson, 53, of Riverside entered a classroom at North Park Elementary School and opened fire on his wife, Karen Elaine Smith, 53, about 10:30 a.m., said San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan. He did not speak, and reloaded the weapon before shooting himself, Burguan said.
Two students standing behind Smith were also shot, police said. The boy, identified as Jonathan Martinez, was flown by helicopter to Loma Linda Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead a short time later, hospital officials said. A 9-year-old student who was wounded remains hospitalized in stable condition, Burguan said.
The shooting occurred in a classroom for students with intellectual disabilities, said San Bernardino Unified School District spokeswoman Maria Garcia. There were 15 students from first through fourth grades in the room, and two adult aides, Burguan said.
The chief said the couple had been married for only a few months, and he described them as “estranged.”
Burguan said Anderson was armed with a high-caliber revolver and had a criminal history that includes arrests for weapons and drug possession, as well as domestic violence. Anderson’s prior domestic violence arrest pre-dated his relationship with Smith, according to Burguan, who did not say if the man legally obtained the revolver used in the shooting.
The gunfire was reported at 10:27 a.m. in a classroom at North Park Elementary School, 5378 N. H Street. San Bernardino Police Capt. Ron Maass said the shooter checked in with school officials before visiting the teacher’s classroom, but no one saw the handgun he was carrying at that time.
Anderson opened fire shortly after entering the classroom, and Maass said he did not believe the children were targeted.
Marissa Perez, 9, was in the classroom when Anderson opened fire. The young girl 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 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,” Marissa said.
The girl’s mother, Elizabeth Perez, said she was angry at the lack of information coming from the school district. She did not know what her daughter had seen until she arrived at Cajon High School, where students had been evacuated, and her daughter ran toward her.
“Mommy, I still have blood on my sweater,” Marissa said.
Elizabeth, who described Smith as “very kind” and attentive toward her daughter in class, wondered aloud how a gunman was able to gain access to a classroom filled with young children.
Armed security officers are not assigned to any of the district’s elementary schools, including North Park, a magnet school for students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade who are interested in environmental issues, according to Garcia, the school district spokeswoman. Garcia described security on campus as “very, very tight.”
“Once the school bell rings, the only way into the campus is through the front office,” she said.
All district schools require visitors to show a photo ID and sign in at the front office. The gunman, she said, “followed the check-in protocol.”
Anderson gained access to the classroom after telling the school’s office staff that he needed to drop something off to Smith, according to Burguan.
“That’s not uncommon for a spouse to be able to gain access to a campus to meet with their spouse,” he said.
Last summer, the school's leadership went through “threat assessment training,” preparing for the possibility of a shooting near the school or within the building, Garcia said. The teachers followed their training Monday, she said, and had “the majority of the students outside of harm’s way within minutes,” on a grassy area outside the buildings, she said.
The school will remain closed Tuesday and Wednesday, but may temporarily reopen in an alternate location, in part because the building may still be an active crime scene, Garcia said.
“We want to minimize the trauma that not just our students, but our staff, have been exposed to,” Garcia said.
Smith’s mother, Irma Sykes, said her daughter and Anderson were friends for about four years before getting married in January. The couple began living together at Smith’s Riverside home shortly after, but Smith quickly “decided to pull away,” her mother said.
“She thought she had a wonderful husband, but she found out he was not wonderful at all. He had other motives,” Sykes said. “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.”
Sykes did not want to describe the details of what Smith experienced in her relationship with Anderson prior to their breakup, choosing instead to focus on the memory of her daughter, who lived most of her life in Harbor City.
“She was a very fine person,” Sykes said. “She was a Christian. She loved the Lord and served him, and she was a dedicated teacher.”
Sykes said her daughter began to pursue a teaching career a decade ago, after raising four children, who are now adults. Smith had a passion for helping children with autism and learning disabilities, taking after her mother, who was a teacher for 41 years.
Anderson was a pastor who attended community meetings in Southern California, said Najee Ali, a community activist in Los Angeles and executive director of Project Islamic Hope.
"He was a deeply religious man. I met him at a few events. I know he preached on the radio a little,” he said. “There was never any signs of this kind of violence … on his Facebook he even criticized a man for attacking a woman."
Court records, however, told a different story. Anderson was charged with assault and battery in Los Angeles County in July 2013. Two months earlier, he had been charged with brandishing a firearm and disturbing the peace, records show. All charges were dismissed roughly one year later, after a jury trial had been scheduled, according to electronic court records.
Police began searching homes in Riverside and Bakersfield in connection with the shooting on Monday afternoon, according to Eileen Hards, a San Bernardino police spokeswoman. She declined to elaborate.
The shooting rocked parents and students alike, leaving little children fleeing the school for safety as their parents waited nervously to find out if they were safe.
Jaidyn Stanley, 9, said he was in a different classroom when he heard three gunshots.
“My teacher told us to get on the ground. Then we started hearing sirens,” the third-grader said.
Jaidyn stayed low to the ground for about 30 seconds, until his teacher told the class to get up, run and follow her out of an emergency exit. He and his classmates left their backpacks behind.
“There was a lot of people in my class crying and they were scared. They thought the shooter was going to come in the classroom,” Jaidyn said.
Jaidyn said once he and his classmates were outside on a soccer field, they were planning to walk to Cajon High School, but he spotted his mother. She scooped him up and took him home.
Students were evacuated to Cal State San Bernardino’s physical education building, where they could access bathrooms and water, said university spokesman Joe Gutierrez. San Bernardino police also tweeted images of children being given glow sticks and other toys throughout the day, and some parents said their children were allowed to watch movies while they waited to be released.
Parents were directed to Cajon High School, where officials verified their identities before sending them to Cal State San Bernardino to pick up their children, Gutierrez said.
North Park Elementary has more than 500 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, mostly from low-income Latino families.
Students were huddled on a field at a corner of the school’s campus on Northpark Boulevard and H Street, accompanied by teachers and guarded by law enforcement officers carrying long guns.
Anxious parents such as David Zamudio gathered nearby, but barriers blocked them from reaching their children. Some parents said there was confusion over where to collect their children as information circulated that they should be picked up at either Cajon High School or Cal State San Bernardino.
Zamudio, the father of a 6-year-old in second grade at North Park, said he lives nearby and heard helicopters overhead. He rushed to the school when his sister called saying there had been a school shooting.
“I came because they said it was safer, more isolated. But I guess it’s not that way,” said Zamudio, who recently moved to the area from Highland.
In a statement on Twitter, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said: “My heart and prayers go out to the victims of today's horrible act in #SanBernardino & to the whole North Park Elem. School community.”
“This is an absolute tragic event,” district Supt. Dale Marsden said. “Our hearts are broken.”