A man walked into a school in southern California Monday and shot dead his estranged wife in front of her pupils, killing an eight-year-old boy in the crossfire before turning his gun on himself.
Police said local resident Cedric Anderson had checked into the office as a visitor after entering the campus in the city of San Bernardino and going to the special needs classroom, where he opened fire on Karen Elaine Smith, 53, as she was teaching.
Officers said Anderson, also 53, had only targeted Smith but two pupils were caught in the crossfire and one of them, Jonathan Martinez, died later in hospital.
“This does appear to have been a murder-suicide with both male adult and female adult victim succumbing to injuries, with the male succumbing to a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” Lieutenant Mike Madden of the San Bernardino Police Department told a news conference.
Police said initially the two wounded pupils had been listed as critical but later confirmed Martinez’s death.
Pupils at North Park Elementary School – which has around 500 pupils between kindergarten and sixth grade – were transported to a nearby campus, where they were “having snacks, playing games and watching a Disney movie,” the police department tweeted.
Many panicked parents and relatives who rushed to the school had to endure waits of several agonising hours before they could be certain that their child was not among the victims.
“I saw blood splashing on the wall. I ran as fast as I can. I lost a shoe,” one pupil told AFP.
An 11-year-old boy told AFP he was in the middle of a math test when he heard the gunfire.
“I started feeling really scared from the SWAT team, and people from the police station came through the door to walk us out we had to walk with our hands up,” he said.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement: “School campuses are sacred spaces where children should be free to learn, play and grow without threat of violence.
“Today’s shooting… is a reminder that deadly weapons can shatter that sense of security, mercilessly and without warning – leaving parents and educators struggling to address the questions, fears and anxieties that gun violence creates for our young people.”