S. E. Williams
Experts believe nearly seven million American children live in families where severe partner violence has occurred— few, however, expect children to be exposed to such violence in their classroom—that changed on Monday in San Bernardino.
Sometime after 10:00 a.m. that morning, 53-year-old Cedric Anderson entered North Park Elementary School through the front office where, according to normal procedures, office staff checked his identification. Anderson advised them he had something he needed to deliver to his wife.
Anderson left the office and proceeded to his wife’s classroom. He entered just before 10:30 a.m. to find his wife, 53-year-old Karen Elaine Smith, fifteen (special needs) students and two aides. The students in the classroom ranged from grades one to four.
According to San Bernardino Police Department Chief Jarrod Burguan, “Cedric entered the classroom without saying anything, armed with a large caliber revolver and opened fire on his wife.” She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Sadly, also according to Burguan, two students were standing behind Smith when Anderson shot. Initially, it is still unclear whether the students were hit by gunfire or wounded with shrapnel; it is also believed they were not intentional targets. It was later determined both students were hit by stray bullets.
Eight-year-old Jonathan Martinez, was air-lifted to Loma Linda University Medical Center where he was later pronounced dead. The other student, a nine-year-old boy, Nolan Brandy, was also airlifted to Loma Linda where he remained in stable condition on Tuesday.
Young Martinez lived with a developmental disorder called Williams’ Syndrome. Individuals with this condition often experience a mild to moderate intellectual disability or learning problems; unique personality characteristics; distinctive facial features; and heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) problems. According to experts, individuals like young Martinez who are affected by this genetic condition, have outgoing and engaging personalities.
Monday morning, police officers arrived at the school seven minutes after they received the first call about the shooting, just before 10:30 a.m. The chief reported that Anderson had fired at least six shots from a .357 caliber revolver. It did not take long for officials to determine the event was a murder-suicide.
Anderson and Smith were just married in January, but separated last month. Anderson had a criminal past that included domestic violence, weapons possession and possible drug charges—although the domestic violence charges, appear to have preceded his marriage to Smith.
Smith was described by those who worked with her as a dedicated educator who loved her job. When speaking about Smith a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino City Unified School District, Maria Garcia, told reporters, "It takes a very, very special person to be a special education teacher." She added, “We want her to be remembered for the amazing teacher that she was."
In an interview with the Times, Smith’s mother, Irma Sykes, provided a fuller picture of who her daughter was. Smith had raised four children to adulthood as a single mother—she also home-schooled her children for eight years. Smith earned a degree and teaching credentials later in life because, according to her mother, she had a passion for helping children with autism and learning disabilities. Smith took after her mother who taught for forty-one years.
Sykes said her daughter and Anderson were friends for four years before they married in January. After the marriage, the two lived together in Smith’s Riverside home but after about a month, Smith began to pull away from the relationship.
Sykes told the Times, “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.” Sykes continued. “She decided she needed to leave him. She was going to divorce him.” Sykes however, declined to provide details regarding what had gone wrong in the relationship before Smith left Anderson.
In a recent Facebook post Anderson talked about how much he, “loved being married to Karen Smith-Anderson!” He also described her as “an angel.” Yet, despite his professions of love and admiration for his wife, something obviously went terribly wrong in the few short months of their marriage.
On the day of the incident, students at North Park Elementary were quickly removed to nearby California State University, San Bernardino for safety. Although there was some initial confusion as parents rushed to retrieve and comfort their children; parents were eventually advised to pick up their children with a photo identification at Cajon High School. By 4:30 p.m. Monday, all the students were released to their families.
The sad story that unfolded on Monday added to a mountain of existing evidence that, “Gun violence against women in America is inextricably linked to domestic violence.” According to the non-profit organization, Every Town for Gun Safety (ETGS), at least 52 percent of American women killed with guns are killed by intimate partners or family members.
Women are 16 times more likely to be killed with guns in the United States than in other developed countries; also, Black women are two and a half times more likely to be murdered by a gun than White women.
According to ETGS, despite impressions from media coverage of mass shootings—such events are also typically acts of domestic or family violence. An analysis of every mass shooting between 2009 and 2015 by the agency found that 57 percent of such shootings were committed by an intimate partner or family member.
In recent years, the California legislature has worked to mitigate this concern. When Governor Jerry Brown signed AB1014 into law on September 30,2014, California became the first state in the nation to implement a bill to allow concerned family members or law enforcement officers to petition a court for a Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO).
In instances where there is evidence for a judge to believe that an individual poses a danger to self or others, the GVRO will temporarily prohibit the individual from purchasing or possessing firearms or ammunition. It also allows law enforcement to remove any firearms or ammunition already in the individual’s possession. (When or where Anderson secured the weapon used in the Monday murders is yet to be disclosed by authorities.)
Second Amendment advocates said California went too far with AB1014; others say the state still has not gone far enough. Yet, data shows that more than twice as many women are killed with a gun used by their husbands or intimate partners than are murdered by strangers.
Equally as alarming as the issue of domestic violence is the concerning reality that since the Sandy Hook Massacre of 2013, there have been more than 200 school shootings in America— the equivalent of nearly one per week. A recent analysis of school shootings that involved a homicide, revealed not only did student enrollment in the affected schools decline, but students’ standardized test scores were depressed by almost five percent.
According to the California Department of Education, North Park Elementary School provides education to about 530 students. It was closed for two days following Monday’s shooting. School Superintendent Dale Marsden arranged for counselors to assist students as needed. He also offered counsel to the parents regarding how to help their children cope with the crisis, “I would like you to work with your young child to keep things as normal as possible,” Marsden said. “Be willing to listen to their story as many times as possible.”
During a press conference Monday afternoon, San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis acknowledged he had received calls of condolences with offers of support from the White House and Governor Jerry Brown.
Monday night, young Jonathan’s Little League teammates held a vigil in his honor. That same evening, a vigil was held for all of Monday’s victims at Our Lady of Assumption Church in San Bernardino.
Tuesday evening, a community candlelight vigil at North Park Elementary School drew hundreds who came to honor the memories of the victims and stand in solidarity and support—a community once again drawn together to mourn an unspeakable tragedy.
The shooting at North Park Elementary School occurred just sixteen short months after the December 2, 2015, terror attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left 14 people dead and 22 others with serious injuries.
In recent years, San Bernardino officials and leaders in the community have struggled with an increasing murder rate. The city’s homicide rate increased exponentially from 44 in 2015, a total that includes the 14 victims of the terror attack, to 62 murders across the city in 2016.
For additional information regarding the nexus between gun violence and domestic violence visit https://everytownresearch.org/issue/domestic-violence/.
Twenty-four hour hotlines are available to assist local victims of domestic violence. In Riverside County call (800) 339-7233; in San Bernardino County call (909) 381-3471.