SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (CN) – Eight families have sued the San Bernardino City Unified School District in Southern California, saying the district failed to protect students from a school shooting this past April in which two people were killed.
In a pair of state court lawsuits filed Dec. 21, children and their parents say the school district and North Park Elementary School principal Yadira Downing ignored special needs teacher Karen Smith’s warnings that her estranged husband had been threatening her.
Smith’s husband Cedric Anderson, a 53-year old volunteer pastor and former Navy veteran, entered the school grounds through the front office and went to Smith’s classroom. School officials recognized Anderson as Smith’s husband and allowed him in to drop something off.
Although the lawsuits say Downing, other staff members and even students knew of the problems in Smith’s marriage, San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said, “No one at the school knew of the problems in their marriage, and it’s a common practice for spouses to visit teachers at school.”
But according to the families’ lawsuit, filed on their behalf by attorney Gordon Phillips of Santa Ana, California, “Four days before the incident, Cedric Anderson showed up unannounced at the school and was observed by staff acting inappropriately. Despite these warnings, and despite his efforts to break into the school through a side gate, Cedric Anderson was not only freely permitted to enter campus, but also into Smith’s classroom.”
There were 15 students in Smith’s classroom ranging from first to fourth grade and two adult aides when Anderson opened fire, killing his wife. He also shot eight-year-old Jonathan Martinez, who died at a hospital, and wounded another student before turning the gun on himself.
In their lawsuit, Martinez’s parents also stress school officials knew about Smith’s troubles with Anderson.
“The tragic death of a young boy as a result of such heinous violence naturally invokes outrage and sympathy for all involved particularly the surviving parents. But this tragedy is compounded by the fact that Jonathan s death was fully preventable,” Alfredo Martinez and Florinda Guerrero say in their lawsuit, filed on their behalf by attorney Matthew Lombard of Los Angeles.
“For weeks months prior to the shooting Cedric Anderson was violent toward Karen Smith and threatened to murder her, ultimately causing her to flee her home and go into hiding,” they add.
At a school board meeting two days after the shooting, Superintendent Dale Marsden said: “We will talk to the staff about the additional security measures that will be put in place; your voices will be the primary ones that will drive this process forward.”
Teacher Joyella Beuler read a statement on behalf of her colleagues requesting additional safety measures be put into place, such as ensuring all classrooms have doors that lock. Local parents and community members also suggested that no outside people be allowed into campus.
Neither the school district nor Downing immediately responded to requests for comment by phone and email on Tuesday.
The families seek damages and expenses and claims of negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and dangerous condition of public property.
Martinez’ parents seek damages, including punitive damages, from the school district and Principal Downing on claims of wrongful death, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, dangerous condition of public property and negligent infliction of emotional distress.