Crime & Justice

San Bernardino suspect had made threats before murder-suicide

A police officer stands guard outside North Park School after a fatal shooting at the elementary school, Monday, April 10, 2017, in San Bernardino.
A police officer stands guard outside North Park School after a fatal shooting at the elementary school, Monday, April 10, 2017, in San Bernardino.
Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP

Listen to story

Download this story 1MB

Updated 12:58 p.m. Suspect had made threats against teacher he killed, his estranged wife

The man who opened fire in a San Bernardino elementary school classroom, killing his wife and a student before taking his own life, previously made threats after separating from his wife and her moving out, police said Tuesday.

Cedric Anderson, who had worked as a pastor and a maintenance man, and Karen Smith, a teacher who worked with special needs children, had been in a relationship for about four years and were married in January. Marital problems soon arose, and Smith left to live with her adult children in mid-March, San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said at a Tuesday morning press conference.

Anderson had four prior arrests from 1982 to 2013 on a weapons charge and charges of domestic violence and theft, but he had no convictions, Burguan said.

Anderson appeared to be making an effort to get his wife to return home, according to police. People close to Smith told police she had mentioned his behavior was odd and that he had made threats against her, though he did not specifically say he would shoot her. Her family told investigators that she did not take the threats seriously and that she thought he might be reaching out for attention.

On Monday, Anderson checked in with staff at North Park Elementary School, where Smith worked as a special education teacher in a mixed-grade class. He went without escort to her classroom, according to police, where he almost immediately opened fire on his wife. She was standing about 10 to 15 feet away in the middle of the room.

Anderson fired 10 rounds from a Smith & Wesson .357 revolver, police said. He reloaded the six-round weapon once. Smith was struck and killed, with several errant rounds hitting two students who were near her, Burguan said.

One of those students, 8-year-old Jonathan Martinez, was airlifted to a local hospital, where he later died. The other, a 9-year-old boy who has not been named, was struck in the upper body but is recovering, Burguan said.

San Bernardino City Unified School District chief Dale Marsden said he had heard the boy was up and watching cartoons.

Later the day of the shooting, police seized several electronic devices from Anderson's Riverside home, including a phone and a computer.

Investigators also discovered a note, though nothing in it would indicate it was a suicide note, Burguan said. He described it as a handwritten note on a regular piece of paper, indicating “things that require attention” and making reference to the relationship and fixing things. The note also mentioned feeling dishonored and moving forward without regrets, but Burguan said the language on its own would not normally have raised any alarms. Because of the shooting, however, it was entered into evidence.

Anderson had three adult children of his own. All of them had been accounted for, Burguan said. Anderson had worked as a pastor in the Las Vegas area but was currently unemployed and trying to start a business.

Anderson’s son was at the Riverside home and was interviewed by investigators, though not detained, Burguan said.

The only information police have been able to turn up so far on Anderson’s weapon was that it was originally sold in 1979 in Michigan.

School security

Both Burguan and Marsden stressed that all school security procedures were followed. Surveillance video showed that Anderson tried another entrance but was unable to get onto the campus. North Park is an “indoor” school, and Anderson was forced to enter through the main office, per protocol.

There was no indication to staff of a potential threat, according to Marsden. Ordinarily, a person who is known to staff, including family members, will check in and can access classrooms without escort. Only someone who is unknown to staff would have to be escorted, Marsden said.

No one at the school knew about the marital discord between Anderson and Smith, as Smith “kept her private life private,” Burguan said.

Marsden said school staff had no reason to suspect Anderson and were given no indication that he was agitated.

Burguan said there was no evidence discovered so far that would indicate that authorities should have seen this incident coming.

Honoring the victims

Jonathan Martinez was by all accounts a happy child, said Marsden, who met with the boy’s parents.

Marsden said Martinez’s parents wanted to honor their son’s memory by raising awareness Williams Syndrome, which Martinez was born with. Williams Syndrome is a genetic condition characterized by medical problems and learning disabilities, but also accompanied sometimes by striking verbal abilities and an affinity for music, Marsden said.

Anyone can be born with the condition, which affects an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people in the United States. Those with the condition are often known to be social, friendly and endearing, and many parents of children with Williams Syndrome report the joy and perspective a child with the condition brings into their lives is unimaginable, Marsden said.

The district will announce an agency to coordinate further counseling services and donations, Marsden said.

North Park Elementary is scheduled to remain closed until Monday, April 17. A vigil is scheduled to be held at the school at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 11.

Parents and guardians who need child care while the school is closed can drop their students off with trained professionals Thursday and Friday from 8:50 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Del Vallejo Middle School, Marsden said. No accommodations were announced for Tuesday or Wednesday.

KPCC Staff

10:09 a.m. San Bernardino school closed following murder-suicide

Students dove under desks when a man walked into his estranged wife's elementary school classroom and opened fire without saying a word, killing her and an 8-year-old student and wounding a 9-year-old before fatally shooting himself, authorities said.

Some six weeks earlier, 53-year-old Cedric Anderson was a newlywed calling his 53-year-old wife Karen Smith an "angel" in one of many social media posts professing his love.

San Bernardino police have said nothing of what might have motivated Anderson to open fire in the special-education classroom at North Park Elementary School on Monday.

"No one has come forward to say they saw this coming," police Chief Jarrod Burguan said, though Anderson had a history of weapons, domestic violence and possible drug charges that predated the brief marriage.

School district officials said classes at North Park would be canceled for at least Tuesday and Wednesday. Counselors were made available at a nearby middle school for students, family and staff.

The shooting came 15 months after a terror attack in San Bernardino that killed 14 people and wounded 22 others at a meeting of county employees. Husband-and-wife shooters Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik were later killed in a gunbattle with authorities.

Nine-year-old Marissa Perez said she got under a table as soon as she saw the gunman enter her classroom Monday.

"She keeps telling me 'My teacher got shot, my friend got shot,'" her mother, Elizabeth Barajas, said as she clutched her daughter's blood-stained sweatshirt.

Marissa said the shooter didn't speak as he began shooting. One of her friends was hit, she added, pointing to her abdomen.

What appears to be Anderson's Facebook page features many public declarations of love for Smith between statements of religious devotion before his last public post on March 15.

"She knows when to ignore me," Anderson said with a laugh in a short video posted Feb. 27. "Well, it makes a happy marriage."

Anderson had posted that he "loved being married to Karen Smith-Anderson!" and shared a photo of the two of them on March 4 during what he described as a date night.

The page also had several photos of his wedding to Smith and their honeymoon among the scenic red rocks of Sedona, Arizona.

But Smith left him about a month and a half after their late-January marriage, police and family members said.

Smith's mother, Irma Sykes, said her daughter had been friends with Anderson for about four years before they got married.

"She thought she had a wonderful husband, but she found out he was not wonderful at all," Sykes told the Los Angeles Times. "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 did not elaborate further.

Sykes said her daughter was a dedicated teacher who took up the profession about 10 years ago after her four children grew up.

School staffers knew Anderson, who followed the proper protocol and got into the school through the front office by saying he had to drop something off for Smith, school district officials said.

Smith was his target and the two boys were hit as he was firing at her, the police chief said. Anderson emptied and reloaded the gun before turning it on himself.

There were 15 students in the special needs classroom ranging from first to fourth grade, along with two adult aides, Burguan said.

Eight-year-old Jonathan Martinez was airlifted to a hospital, where he was declared dead. The 9-year-old boy, whose name was not released, remained hospitalized Monday night.

The 600 other students at the school were bused to safety at California State University's San Bernardino campus, several miles away, after many walked off campus hand-in-hand, escorted by police.

Panicked parents had to wait hours before being reunited with them at a nearby high school.

Holly Penalber, whose 9-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter attend the school, called it "every parent's worst nightmare." She said the long wait was "frustrating but also understandable."

Once a major rail hub and citrus producer, the city of 216,000 people filed for bankruptcy in 2012 after struggling to pay its employees despite steep cuts to the budget. It was hit hard by the great recession, seeing rises in unemployment and violent crime.

An overflow crowd gathered at sunset at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in San Bernardino to mourn and pray for the victims and survivors of Monday's shooting. One man wore a shirt that read "stop the violence in SB."

"Sometimes all we can do is cry. And today is the day for that," Bishop Gerald R. Barnes told the gathering. "We'll get up again. We'll move on. We'll become stronger. But today is the day to cry."