At the start, the photographs, the Facebook postings, the video — it all looked so, so right. Godly even. At least that’s the way Cedric Anderson depicted it.
Anderson wrote as if he and his vibrant, striking bride — school teacher Karen Smith — had been destined for each other. The evidence appeared in his frequent Facebook postings: a gentle wedding kiss, the video of the newly married couple cooing at the camera over a sumptuous dinner, then more baby talk and snuggling during their honeymoon in Sedona, Arizona. He called himself “blessed.”
But all that would resonate with painful incongruity after Monday’s horrific shooting at North Park Elementary School in San Bernardino, California — with 53-year-old Smith and one of her 8-year-old students killed, her husband of less than three months dead of an apparent self-inflicted gun shot and another student, 9, in stable condition, according to authorities.
Before Monday’s deadly outburst, most of what appeared in Anderson’s Facebook-curated world seemed just right, belying what police described as the couple’s estrangement.
They had been together for several years, but Smith grew terrified of Anderson, her family said. She never filed a police report, but went into hiding, keeping the details of their marital troubles under wraps.
“She didn’t deserve to die like this, she didn’t. She deserved better,” son Adam Smith told NBC Los Angeles.
“Personally, she was my rock, my best friend and my world,” added daughter Jennifer Smith.
Anderson seemed to share a similar view. Three weeks after their Jan. 28 wedding, the smitten husband described a nearly perfect two days. It began with a visit to Saddleback Church in Orange County, where Anderson, 53, routinely found inspiration in the form of evangelical pastor Rick Warren. In a jean jacket, brilliant orange dress and wide smile, the seemingly content Karen posed in front of a waterfall and the “Prayer Tree.”
In a video posted to his Facebook page, the newly minted husband rhapsodized about the time that followed: “Last night, cuddling, listening to the rain after watching my wife choice (girly movie.) This morning ‘BAM!’ Breakfast is served! I love this lady!”
A day earlier, he had typed out an even more effusive tribute: “My wife Karen is such a pure spirit,” wrote Anderson, who posted multiple videos of himself touring around a plant where he appeared to work. “She has no guile or pretense. She has no ill will toward anyone. (It amazes me!) … I praise God for such a wonderful Lady!”
There are no obvious signs in Anderson’s busy Facebook feed of a rift in the union during the two months that followed, before the shooting. At least not in Anderson’s mostly-gauzy social media prescribed world. He called his wife “sexy” and “an angel” and seemed to covet their time together, as in an early February post when — fresh off their Sedona honeymoon — he noted that even his wife’s work as a teacher provided a surprise bonus: “We have to visit the museums! And I just happen to love museums!”
But Anderson’s social media persona was not without hints, at least in a couple of videos, that the alleged shooter seemed to be drawn to violent imagery.
On March 12, he posted a more than two-minute New York Post video of a man making an unprovoked attack on an elderly woman — the attacker beginning his assault with a kick to the victim’s head. The story came with the headline: “Can you hear me now?” Anderson’s offered it without much explanation, just this: “Deranged? Yea!”
Feb. 20 brought an expression of Anderson’s apparently aggressive worldview. Titled “The sacrifices of a Father,” the alleged shooter wrote of how he had driven 500 miles in one day and eventually applied to 50 colleges, as his son sought a college football scholarship. He said that he “almost personally attacked 3 Coaches to get my son Jared a scholarship,” adding, “A father is like a lion. He will kill you for his Blood!” And this: “A real man must be willing to submit to his father!”
In more than one other Facebook missive, Anderson touted admonitions from a woman pastor who he appeared to follow closely. In a late February post, he strikes out against those who he suggests have stood in his path. The writing begins with the hashtag “Enemies” and hammers the unnamed individuals who “call around and block you, outright lie on you, build alliances against you, compete with you, out do you and more.”
The post goes on to quote the words of the favored minister, saying that “THIS is the year” that things will change, continuing: “(You can mark THESE here words and TAKE THEM TO THE BANK), BEFORE the year is out, your enemies will have retreated. WHY? Because your CONTINUED victories have left them bruised, battered, and scorned.”
Anderson’s darker writings — replete with anger, alienation and predictions of his ultimate triumph — seemed hard to square with the ones from the effusive newlywed, a man who had filled his Facebook page with sunny aphorisms. “It’s hard to beat a person who NEVER GIVES UP,” Anderson said, quoting Babe Ruth.
Just 41 days later, police say, Anderson walked into North Park Elementary School at about 10:30 a.m. and told the front office that he had to drop something off to his wife. He quickly opened fire in a classroom of 15 students. An 8-year-old boy standing behind the gunman’s wife was fatally shot, and a 9-year-old who was also wounded was rushed to a hospital.
His principal target, Karen Smith, the woman who he once said fulfilled all of his dreams, was dead. Anderson also lay dead on the ground. His .357 Magnum was found by his side.