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Grief counselors to offer support to students, staff as San Bernardino school shooting probe continues

A child rests his head on his father’s shoulder during a prayer service at Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Church for the victims in the shooting at North Park Elementary School. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Grief counselors will be on hand to support students, parents and staff from North Park Elementary, a day after the estranged husband of a special needs teacher shot her in her classroom, killing her and an 8-year-old student, and wounding a third student.

“As a result of this tragedy, North Park Elementary will be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday and Del Vallejo Middle School will serve as a temporary location to provide counseling and support services to North Park staff members, parents and students on Tuesday and Wednesday,” the San Bernardino City Unified School District said in a statement.

The district hoped to assure parents concerned about school safety, saying it was taking “extra precautions to ensure all our schools are safe.”

The gunman, Cedric Anderson, entered the North Park’s front office on Monday 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.

At 10:27 a.m., Anderson walked into Smith’s special education classroom and, without speaking, opened fire, striking 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. The 9-year-old boy who was injured by gunfire was in stable condition at Loma Linda Medical Center on Monday evening.

Anderson, 53, of Riverside had a criminal history, including weapons charges and “a domestic violence past” that preceded his relationship with Smith, the chief said. 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 said 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.

Anderson was known to the school’s staff, he said.

“As with any policy, we want to take all things that we learned… and revise any work that we do,” Marsden said.

Armed security officers are not assigned to any of the district’s elementary schools, said Maria Garcia, a school district spokeswoman. But she described security on the North Park campus as “very, very tight.”

Smith’s mother, Irma Sykes, said her daughter and Anderson had been friends for about four years before getting married in January.

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.

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.

Rachel Valles’ son, second-grader Ethan Valles, was in Smith’s special education class at North Park elementary school. He wasn’t in school on Monday when the shooting happened and his mother was at once relieved and devastated at the loss of her son’s teacher and his classmate.

"I want to feel happy," she said. "At the same time, I’m heartbroken."

Smith was a loving, dedicated and patient teacher, Valles recalled. When her son started her class this year, he had difficulty reading anything more than basic words, she said.

But Smith was persistent in working with him. She offered students small prizes — things like a balloon or a ball — when they read 15 books and Ethan thrived under her guidance, Valles said. Smith would describe to her how Ethan’s eyes lit up every time he learned a new word.

"She did so much for him," Valles said. "I would ask her, ‘how do you do it?’"