SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — Cedric Anderson had been married to Karen Elaine Smith just two months when he walked into her classroom at a Southern California elementary school, fatally shot her, and then turned the gun on himself, police said.
San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said during a news conference Tuesday that the couple, both 53, had been in a relationship for about four years and that, soon after they married in late January, they separated. The police chief said it appeared that Anderson had been attempting to contact Smith and persuade her to return home, but she was resistant.
“Those closest to her said that she had mentioned that his behavior was odd and that she was concerned about his behavior, and that he had made some threats toward her,” Burguan told reporters. “He did not make a specific threat to shoot her.
“We were also told from the family that she didn’t necessarily take those threats seriously.”
No one at the school where Smith was a special-education teacher knew about the issues, Burguan said, adding: “She effectively kept her private life private.”
But when responding officers arrived Monday morning at North Park Elementary School in San Bernardino, the couple were dead. Police said Anderson entered the classroom, raised a large-caliber revolver, and, without saying a word, opened fire.
Fifteen students and two aides were also in the room, a special-education class with a mix of first- through fourth-graders. Two students were near Smith when she was shot and were struck by errant bullets. One of the students, 8-year-old Jonathan Martinez, was airlifted to a nearby hospital but died of his wounds. The second student, a 9-year-old boy whose name was being withheld, was in stable condition at a hospital, police said.
Capt. Ron Maass of the San Bernardino police said earlier that the children are not believed to have been targets but were “unfortunate recipients of injuries.”
San Bernardino City Unified Superintendent Dale Marsden said Tuesday that Jonathan, the boy who was killed, was born with Williams syndrome, a genetic condition often characterized by cardiovascular disease, developmental delays and learning disabilities.
“By all accounts, Jonathan Martinez was a happy child,” Marsden said. He added that the child’s family said they wants people to be aware of the syndrome.
Williams syndrome affects some 20,000 to 30,000 people in the United States and about 1 in 10,000 worldwide, according to a website about the condition.
Jane Muschell said that her 9-year-old son, Jeremy, knew Jonathan.
“He saw him on a daily basis — they would always say hi to each other,” Muschell told The Washington Post.
During the shooting, she said, Jeremy was in the classroom next door, but because the classrooms are separated by partitions rather than walls, he heard it all.
Muschell said Jeremy and a friend had returned from a bathroom break when her son heard “four loud booms.”
“They were really, really loud, and he heard people yelling, ‘No, don’t!’ ” Muschell said. “He told me he heard [Anderson] reload the gun — cocking the gun.”
As the gunshots rang out, Jeremy’s teacher led the students out an emergency door to a playground on the far end of the campus, where they awaited police.
“It happened so quickly, he said he was scared and wanted to cry,” Muschell said about her 9-year-old son, “but he didn’t — and they all exited the room.”
Grief counselors were on hand Tuesday at nearby Del Vallejo Middle School in San Bernardino.
Kerrie Oestreich came with her adult daughter Emily Oestreich for counseling. Both mother and daughter work at North Park Elementary as recreational aides who interact with students at recess and during lunchtime. Kerrie Oestreich said she greets the children every morning as they disembark from the bus, and that she was the first adult Jonathan saw every morning when he came to school.
“He was always happy, even if he was sick,” she said through tears.
“Sometimes he’d get off the bus and tell me, ‘Miss O, I think today my foot’s going to hurt,’ ” she added with a chuckle. “I’d be like, ‘Okay, Jonathan, I’ll check on you later.’ And he’d just bounce right on up with the rest of the kids.”
Kerrie and Emily Oestreich were in their workroom with another woman on campus during the shooting.
Kerrie Oestreich said a maintenance crew was on the grounds making repairs when the first shot was fired.
“It was like, ‘What the hell are they doing?’ ” she said. “Then when the second shot went off, that’s when the three of us looked at each other: ‘Those are gunshots.’ ”
Kerrie Oestreich said she left the room and saw some kids in the hallway. She said she ushered them into a bathroom, adding, “I told them not to open the door.”
Kerrie Oestreich — who has several children that attend the school — left the building to check on other students, and was shepherded to a classroom, where a group of students and teachers were in lockdown.
She said Tuesday that she wasn’t sure what she was hoping to get out of the grief counseling.
“My chest hurts,” she said. “The only other time I felt like this is when my father died.”
Martin and Alejandra Alcazar also attended counseling Tuesday with their daughter Brianna, who was in the North Park classroom at the time of the shooting.
“I heard him load a gun,” Brianna said, speaking softly to a reporter. “And then I saw his gun was black and his jacket was black.”
Brianna said “the bad guy” did not say anything before he started shooting. She added that she loved her teacher, Karen Smith.
“I miss her — I want her to come back,” she said, adding that Smith taught her how to read and do subtraction. “She’s in heaven.”
The police chief said during Tuesday’s news conference that Anderson had accused his estranged wife of infidelity — though he stressed that investigators had no evidence to validate that claim.
Burguan said Anderson, who had previously worked as a pastor and, more recently, in maintenance work, was unemployed. Burguan said Anderson had a criminal history that included domestic violence, weapons and drug charges, but no convictions. The police said investigators were not aware whether any incidents involved Smith.
After the shooting, police searched Anderson’s home, seizing electronic devices and a handwritten note that made references to Anderson and Smith’s relationship, “feeling dishonored” and “moving forward with no regrets,” Burguan said, adding that it was not considered a suicide note and that, without the shooting, the letter would not have raised any alarms.
Both Anderson and Smith had adult children.
Joshua Smith, Smith’s 30-year-old son from a previous relationship, said in an email to The Post that his mother was a “genuinely loving and caring person” who was devoted to her Christian faith.
He said Anderson seemed “a bit different” at first, but later revealed himself to be “paranoid and possessive.”
It was that behavior, he said, that led Smith to leave Anderson just months after the couple were married.
“She loved life, her career, and especially her children,” Joshua Smith said about his mother. “It seems surreal that she is gone, that I will no longer hear her voice and that she won’t see her granddaughter grow up. It hurts, but I know she is with God now.”
On Facebook, Anderson had discussed at length his faith in God and his relationship with Smith.
Shortly after the couple were married, he posted a video titled, “I married a crazy hiker! I got to get in shape!” Anderson, who was cuddled up to Smith, said in the clip in February that the two were on their honeymoon.
“Say how much fun you’re having, baby,” he told Smith.
“Hi,” she said, smiling, “we’re having such a good time.”
“She got me hiking,” Anderson added. “We’re having a ball. It’s been nice.”
Last month, he wrote “Date Night!!!” above a photo of the couple smiling.
In other posts, Anderson called Smith “an angel” and “a pure spirit.”
He was also vocal about his faith. In a post about “Greenleaf,” a drama about a corrupt black pastor and his scandal-plagued family on the Oprah Winfrey Network, he wrote about his disillusionment with the church.
“After watching Greenleaf with my wonderful little wife,” he said, “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.”
He concluded the post by saying he prays for such people “and keep my guns close!”
School shootings have faded from the headlines but remain a concern for parents and school administrators. A dozen incidents involving the discharge of a gun have been reported at U.S. schools and colleges this year, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization that tracks gun violence, although this appeared to be the first murder.
The shooting was reminiscent of the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 children and six staff members before killing himself. But for the San Bernardino community, the flashback was to 2015, when two terrorists opened fire at the Inland Regional Center there, killing 14 and wounding 22 in one of the deadliest such attacks since Sept. 11, 2001.
A school district spokeswoman said that the city’s schools increased security measures after the 2015 terrorist attack. In that incident, a married couple entered a venue hosting a Christmas party for county public health workers and opened fire. The two were later killed in a shootout with San Bernardino police.
“Once the school bell rings, the only entry point into a campus is the main school office, where visitors have to sign in and receive a visitor’s pass,” said district spokeswoman Maria Garcia.
Anderson stopped by the school office after he entered the school Monday morning and told administrators he needed to drop something off to his wife, Burguan said.
“That is not uncommon for a spouse to be able to gain access to a school campus to meet with their other spouse,” he said.
Authorities said there was no indication that the gun was visible when Anderson entered the classroom.
A frantic scene unfolded at the school Monday as information trickled out about the incident. Parents were told not to come to the school but rather to wait at a nearby high school, where they were told to present identification to police to reunite with their children. But the children were evacuated to a third location, a college campus, as police interviewed potential witnesses and notified the victims’ families.
Television stations in Southern California carried aerial footage showing children emerging hand in hand from North Park, then boarding school buses destined for a local college campus.
Eleven-year-old Jeanette Adams said students were rushed out of her sixth-grade class after they were told there had been a shooting. She wasn’t able to call her mother until later when she borrowed a friend’s cellphone.
Her mother, meanwhile, had been panicking as news spread about the attack.
“I was scared; I was crying; I was angry,” her mother, Jeanette Gordan, said. “But when I got that phone call that my daughter was all right, it was like having her again for the first time.”
North Park Elementary enrolls about 530 children, the majority of whom are Latino and three-quarters of whom are poor, according to data from the San Bernardino City Unified School District. Officials said the school will be closed for two days.
Alice Crites, Peter Holley and Wesley Lowery contributed to this report. William Dauber reported from San Bernardino.