Heartbroken over the loss of their beloved mother, the children of the slain San Bernardino teacher want the world to remember the 53-year-old woman as someone who dedicated her life to the growth and success of her students.
Karen Elaine Smith home-schooled her four children, all now adults, for eight years before she went back to school to pursue a career in education.
"During her ten-year career, she took extreme joy in challenging her students academically and seeing them excel," Smith's daughter, Jennifer Smith, told NBC4 Monday in a phone interview.
It was only Smith's second year as a special needs educator at North Park Elementary School in San Bernardino when a man, armed with a .357 revolver, came into her classroom Monday and opened fire on Smith, with bullets hitting two students in the process. Eight-year-old Jonathan Martinez later died while on his way at the hospital and a 9-year-old student, whose identity has not been made public, was critically injured. The shooter reloaded his handgun at least one time, and used the last round to take his own life, police said.
"She didn't deserve to die like this," her son, Adam Smith, said.
Smith taught at Cajon High School in San Bernardino before she transferred to North Park Elementary.
"Oftentimes former students would contact her and thank her for helping them graduate from high school," Jennifer said. "Children were the light of her world and their success was hers."
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Smith shared her love of teaching with Jennifer, who is also a teacher.
"Personally, she was my rock, my best friend and my world," she said.
Her family also said Smith was a loving grandmother to three grandchildren. Her oldest child, Rod Smith Jr., said his 4-year-old son was her first grandchild.
"She taught me the basis of family and taught me how to use my gifts to share with others," he said.
The suspected shooter was later identified as Smith's estranged husband, 53-year-old Cedric Charles Anderson of Riverside. The two married in late January before Smith left him a month and a half later, police and family members said. The deadly shooting appeared to stem from a domestic dispute, school officials said, but police have not revealed details regarding the motive.
Smith's children did not wish to discuss the details of Smith's relationship with Anderson and only confirmed the two knew each other for a few years. Irma Sykes, Smith's mother, told the Los Angeles Times Smith left Anderson shortly after they married and "he came out with a different personality." She did not elaborate further.
Smith's children also shared their prayers and well wishes to the other victims of the shooting and expressed their mother would have been heartbroken over the attack.
"She did not go to that school knowing she was putting anyone in danger," Adam Smith said. "She would never put the lives of her students in danger."
Community members gathered late Monday at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in San Bernardino to mourn and pray for the victims and survivors of the shooting.
The school is about 10 miles from the Inland Regional Center, where 14 people were killed and 22 wounded in a December 2015 terror attack carried out by a husband and wife.