Brief Marriage Preceded Fatal Calif. School Shooting | NBC Chicago
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Brief Marriage Preceded Fatal Calif. School Shooting

Slain teacher Karen Smith and suspected shooter Cedric Anderson had just married in January before Smith left him over a month later

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    The suspected San Bernardino elementary school shooter portrayed himself as a "man of God" and claimed to be a pastor, an activist and friend of Cedric Anderson said. Beverly White reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Monday, April 10, 2017.

    (Published Tuesday, April 11, 2017)

    A brief marriage and quick estrangement came before a man walked into his wife's elementary school class and opened fire without saying a word, killing her and an 8-year-old student and wounding a 9-year-old student and finally 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," Chief Jarrod Burguan said, though Anderson had a history of weapons, domestic violence and possible drug charges that predated the marriage.

    Anderson was known by some as a community activist. Najee Ali, an activist who was an acquaintance of Anderson for the last few years, said the circumstances around the shooting did not make sense.

    "He always came to community meetings," Ali told NBC4 Los Angeles. "He always portrayed himself as a man of God, and that's why what happened today was so shocking."

    What appears to be his Facebook page features many public declarations of his 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 posted a photo of the two of them on March 4 in 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.

    Some neighbors told NBC4 the couple appeared to be happily married, nice and peaceful, but some observed there appeared to be trouble in the relationship. Nathan Morris would hear loud yelling coming from the house, but never picked up the details or understood what the arguments were about. Haillie Sumney saw the couple arguing in their car just two days before the shooting.

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

    Smith's son, Adam Smith, would not discuss the details of his mother's relationship with NBC4 but shared his mother's love for teaching and their heartbreak over the deadly attacks.

    "She would be extremely heartbroken over the two students who were directly impacted by [the shooting]," said Smith's daughter, Jennifer Smith.

    Adam Smith also said his mother would not have gone to work that morning knowing her estranged husband would come for her there.

    "She did not go to that school knowing that she was putting anyone in danger," Adam Smith told NBC4. "This is a surprise to us."

    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, Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said. He 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."

    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.

    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."

    NBC4's Rick Montanez and Beverly White, and Associated Press writers Christopher Weber, Michael Balsamo, Amanda Lee Myers, Brian Melley, John Rogers and Andrew Dalton contributed to this story.