Teacher Killed by Husband in Elementary School Murder-Suicide Had 'Decided She Had to Get Out': Mom
Karen Smith’s mother is certain that her daughter is in heaven — and that her daughter’s husband, who killed her, is not.
“He, I am sure, went to hell for breaking God’s law,” Irma Sykes tells PEOPLE less than 24 hours after Smith, 53, was shot and killed in her classroom at North Park Elementary School in San Bernardino, California.
Sykes is referring to Cedric Anderson, also 53, whom police described as Smith’s “estranged” husband. The two were married in January.
Police said Anderson came into Smith’s special education classroom of 15 students just before 10:30 a.m. on Monday and fatally fired on her several times.
He didn’t say a word, according to police. Then he killed himself.
Two male students, 8 and 9, were behind Smith during the shooting and were also hit; the 8-year-old, Jonathan Martinez, died.
Sykes tells PEOPLE her daughter was a mother, a “fine young lady” and very spiritual. Police told reporters on Tuesday that Smith had worked for the school district for the last 10 years and had joined North Park in 2015.
She had four adult children, according to police.
“She was born again. She was Christian, she loved the Lord,” her mom says. “She trained her children at church.”
Friend Joleen Woolem says Smith’s “love for God was undeniable.”
“She was the type of person who continuously let you know she cared,” Woolem says, adding, “I can’t stress this enough, they [Smith’s family] are the most sincere, devoted Christian family.”
Woolem says she last spoke to Smith in December, while Woolem was attending to her ailing father.
“She stressed concern about my health through those few weeks to see if I was okay,” Woolem says.
“I am very heartbroken,” she says.
‘A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’
Smith’s religion connected her to her new husband, who had worked as a pastor in the Los Angeles area, her mom says.
Smith knew Anderson for “a number of years” before they wed, Sykes says: “He always showed his good side. He never showed the other side.”
Posts on the apparent Facebook pages for both Anderson and Smith show they discussed their relationship in happy terms multiple times. Anderson once called Smith an “angel.”
“I saw him a couple of months ago [in February], and I remember him talking about how great his wife was,” Najee Ali, an acquaintance of Anderson’s, tells PEOPLE.
But such behavior seemed to mask the truth.
“Once they were married, he showed the other side,” Sykes says.
Things changed very quickly and, according to Sykes, her daughter “decided she had to get out of the situation.”
“They were only married for about three months, and she decided she needed to get away from him,” she says.
Ali says Anderson “always presented this image as a very spiritual, godly man — but obviously, he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
The murder-suicide recasts Anderson’s work in a new light, according to Ali: “He was consistently on the radio. It was a church ministry. … He was essentially a narcissistic person who loved the spotlight. He loved his voice on the radio and loved putting videos of himself on his Facebook page.”
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While police told reporters that Anderson had a criminal history of domestic violence and weapons charges, officials said his behavior didn’t ring any warning bells on Monday before he opened fire.
“It wasn’t until [the shooter] came into the classroom that he presented the weapon,” police said Monday. They said Anderson “simply said he was there to drop something off with his wife.”
A school district spokeswoman told PEOPLE that “when he entered the school, he entered the school from the front office and no one felt uncomfortably or said he shouldn’t be allowed in.”
“He followed the procedures,” she said.
Sykes says Smith’s children “are just heartbroken” by her death.
“I know she is in the presence of the Lord. She was a wonderful person,” Sykes says. “She would never hurt a person — anybody. She was a kind-hearted woman.”
A parent of one of the children in Smith’s classroom echoed that, telling the Los Angeles Times that she was “very kind.”
“The only consolation is I know she is in the presence of the Lord,” Sykes says. “She has gone to receive her reward, and he has gone to receive his.”