Teacher, Students Shot In Special Ed Classroom
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — A 9-year-old girl in a gray zip-up sweater ran to her mother in tears.
“Mommy, I still have blood on my sweater,” she cried.
Elisabeth Barajaz had reunited with her daughter Marissa after hearing there had been a shooting at her San Bernardino school.
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“The boy just walked in with the gun,” said Marissa, a third-grader. “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.”
A gunman had walked into a North Park Elementary School classroom of children with special needs Monday morning and opened fire on his wife, a teacher there, and then killed himself, police said. Stray bullets struck two students, who were rushed to a hospital in critical condition. One of them, an 8-year-old boy, died later in the morning.
Word of the shooting set off a panic in a city traumatized by a terror attack just 16 months before. Where the unthinkable had already happened, nerves were triggered for a catastrophe.
Parents wept as they waited for word of their children outside North Park. One woman fell to her knees. A man tried to push through the police line to get inside.
As details emerged, it was clear the shooting was domestic violence, not terrorism — another terrible day in a wave of mayhem that has shaken the city as much as the December 2015 mass shooting and taken many more lives.
Cedric Anderson, 53, of Riverside, entered the school’s front office and checked in, saying he had to drop something off with his estranged wife, Karen Smith, San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said. School officials did not see Anderson’s .357 handgun, Burguan added.
About 10:27 a.m., Anderson walked into Smith’s special education classroom and, without speaking, opened fire, hitting her and two students behind her. Anderson then reloaded and shot himself, Burguan said. Smith, 53, died at the scene. Jonathan Martinez, 8, was airlifted to a hospital and died before entering surgery. A 9-year-old boy was in stable condition at Loma Linda Medical Center on Monday evening.
Burguan said Anderson had a criminal history, including weapons charges and “a domestic violence past” that preceded his relationship with Smith. Los Angeles County Superior Court records show that Anderson was charged in July 2013 with assault and battery, brandishing a firearm and disturbing the peace.
Burguan added that it was “not uncommon” for a person to be able to gain access to a campus to meet his or her spouse. San Bernardino City Unified School District Supt. Dale Marsden said the school’s staff followed entry procedures, including asking Anderson for identification.
Smith’s mother, Irma Sykes, said her daughter and Anderson had been friends for about four years before getting married in January.
But a month after they moved in together, Anderson showed a different side to his personality and Smith “decided she needed to leave him,” Sykes said in a telephone interview.
Sykes declined to provide details of Anderson’s behavior.
She said her daughter pursued a teaching career after raising four children. Smith earned a degree and teaching credentials at Cal State San Bernardino about a decade ago, Sykes said, because she had a passion for helping children with autism and learning disabilities.
Diane Abrams, who worked in the class for those with special needs, said Smith was a “beloved teacher” who “went to bat for every one of her students.”
Abrams remembered Jonathan as an “8-year-old boy full of life. He was so special to teach. … He was curious to learn. He’d say, ‘Ms. Abrams, am I being an all-star?'”
North Park is a magnet school for students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade who are interested in environmental issues, said Maria Garcia, a school district spokeswoman. Armed security officers are not assigned to any of the district’s elementary schools, Garcia said, but she described security on the North Park campus as “very, very tight.”
“Once the school bell rings, the only way into the campus is through the front office,” she said.
She credited school staff with getting the students outside within minutes of the shooting.
Jaidyn Stanley, 9, was in another classroom when it happened.
“I was in my class and my teacher was teaching us a lesson, and then I heard three gunshots. My teacher told us to get on the ground. Then we started hearing sirens,” the third-grader said.
After about 30 seconds, his teacher told the class to run, following her out an emergency exit. They left their backpacks behind.
“There was a lot of people in my class crying and they were scared,” the boy said. “They thought the shooter was going to come in the classroom.”
Jaidyn said once he and his classmates were outside on a soccer field, they planned to walk to nearby Cajon High School, but he spotted his mother and she scooped him up and took him home.
Other parents desperately tried to get into the school, but officers turned them away.
They watched in terror as police in bulletproof vests walked through basketball courts, helicopters droning overhead.
Sandy Detinne, whose 5-year-old grandson attends the school, was one of them. She was driving by when she saw police racing to the campus.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God! They bombed the school,'” she said.
Mark Coronado, 45, a stay-at-home dad and self-described helicopter parent, heard “way too many sirens.” The first thought that entered his mind was the Inland Regional Center shooting, which left 14 dead in 2015.
His children no longer attended North Park, but he still volunteers there.
He ran to the school and directed confused parents where to go to pick up their kids.
This is a good neighborhood school, he said, with teachers who live nearby.
Still, he said, he always worried about security at the campus. About a year and a half ago, he said, a man tried to bring a knife to the school when trying to pick up his child. He said he confronted the man before the police came and dealt with him.
After the shooting, the children were taken to nearby Cal State San Bernardino and Cajon High School, but parents had trouble finding them.
“We were told to come to Cajon,” said Talia Martin, who was trying to pick up her 9-year-old. “Nobody is here to guide us. It’s a mess.”
Barajaz, whose daughter Marissa was in the classroom, was furious that she could not get any information until the afternoon.
“I don’t know how we’re going to get through this,” she said.
She said she’d have to get counseling for Marissa to help her cope with seeing her teacher killed.
“She was very kind,” Barajaz said of Smith. “She would always tell me how Marissa was doing.”
In the end, she had one haunting question: “How did he get in?”
(Times staff writers Joe Mozingo, Sonali Kohli, Benjamin Oreskes, Richard Winton, Matt Hamilton, James Queally and Veronica Rocha contributed to this report.)
© 2017 Los Angeles Times
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