SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — Ruben Gutierrez did not hesitate. A day after his 7-year-old grandson’s good friend was gunned down in a classroom at their school, he took the boy right back to the small San Bernardino campus of North Park Elementary, even though school was closed.
He wanted the boy to see the flowers, the candles, the balloons, the love shown to his friend, 8-year-old Jonathan Martinez, and the teacher who was also killed. And he wanted him to have good associations with the place before it reopens next week.
“I thought it was important to get him down here today to see what’s going on, to see the community support,” Gutierrez said Tuesday. “To see that his school is safe. You know, it’s not a scary place to be, and just kind of help him process more and re-experience what happened to hopefully make this as healthy an experience as can be given the circumstances.”
Gutierrez’s grandson, Jeffrey Imbriani, had become friends with Jonathan, who was killed Monday morning when Cedric Anderson, a Navy veteran, walked into the special-education classroom of his wife Karen Smith, opening fire on her and striking Martinez and another student in the process.
Anderson, 53, fired off 10 shots from a .357 Magnum. Just a month into their marriage, Anderson had accused his wife of infidelity — though police say there is no evidence of that — and when reconciliation efforts failed, he shot and killed her, San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said.
Smith told family members that Anderson had also threatened her after she moved out, but she didn’t take him seriously and thought he was just seeking attention, the police chief said.
The 8-year-old who died had Williams syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by learning delays, mild-to-moderate intellectual disabilities and heart problems. Jonathan had survived a previous heart surgery. School officials said Jonathan was a happy child who loved music and playing with friends. Family members posted photos of Jonathan on social media of him on amusement rides, sitting on Santa’s lap and riding a horse — all of them show him flashing a smile.
Another boy was also struck by gunfire but is expected to recover. The 9-year-old was stable and in good spirits as he watched cartoons in his hospital bed Tuesday, the school district’s superintendent said.
As a memorial continued to grow on the sidewalk outside of the elementary school, parents and colleagues remembered Smith as a dedicated educator who cared deeply for her students and was devoted to education.
“She was an excellent teacher,” said Marie Cabreras, who has two young children at North Park and also has an older daughter who was Smith’s student for two years at a nearby high school. “Her whole life was surrounded around kids and helping them, and helping them build a future.”
Rachel Valles, whose 8-year-old son Ethan was a student in Smith’s class, said the boy had struggled with reading and math until he started in Smith’s class in August.
“She had a huge impact on his life. He started reading and doing long math,” Valles said. “I told her you have turned his life around. You’ve done for him but I couldn’t do.”
The young boy was not in school Monday but when Valles heard the shooting was in Smith’s classroom, she said she almost passed out.
“He started crying hysterically I spent all night hugging him and telling him, ‘Please don’t ever leave my side,’” she said.
Valles is still struggling with how she’s going to break the news of his teacher’s death to him.
“I just keep telling him, ‘Baby, Miss Smith is on vacation. She’s visiting God. So is Jonathan. He’s visiting God and they’re happy there.”