Why leaving didn't stop Karen Smith's husband from killing her in San Bernardino.

On Monday, April 10, Cedric Anderson walked into North Park Elementary School, where he killed his wife, Karen Smith, as well as a student and, ultimately, himself.

A police officer responds to the shooting at North Park Elementary School. Photo by David McNew/Getty Images.

According to a Los Angeles Times report, Smith, a teacher at the school, was in the process of attempting to divorce Anderson when he murdered her.


Outwardly, Anderson was a doting husband — prone to over-the-top declarations of love. His history of domestic violence allegations suggests a darker story.

While it's unclear what exactly transpired between Anderson and Smith before the shooting, her family reports that she was terrified of her husband, refused to talk about their relationship, and even went into hiding at one point.

Anderson (L) and Smith (R). Photos via San Bernardino Police Department via AP.

When relationships turn abusive — or potentially so — friends and family of the victim are often prone to wonder: "Why doesn't he or she simply leave?"

In Smith's case, she did leave. And she was murdered.

"Leaving is not always the immediate safest choice for somebody," says Bryan Pacheco, public relations director for Safe Horizon, an organization that assists victims of relationship and familial abuse.

Frequently, leaving an abusive partner can increase the danger to the victim. One study, which surveyed data from three cities in three English-speaking countries, concluded that women were three times more likely to be murdered by estranged or former husbands than by their current spouses.

"In an attempt to get the victim to stay, abusers will escalate their tactics," Pacheco says. "They’ll escalate the abuse. They’ll escalate the coercion. They’ll escalate the abusive behavior in an attempt to get that person to stay."

To help provide victims with a way out, organizations like Safe Horizon try to mitigate the risks abusive relationships can pose, even when they're nominally over.

Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images.

Part of what made Anderson such a danger to Smith was his familiarity with her routine: He knew where she worked — and he most likely knew that, as her spouse, he could access her workplace without raising suspicion.

When Safe Horizon makes contact with a victim who wants to break up with an abusive partner, it helps them come up with a safety plan, which entails determining the least risky time to leave — often when the abuser is at work, on vacation, or on a lunch break.

Shelter locations, where victims might temporarily relocate, aren't made public to prevent stalking or worse. A victim who leaves might be placed in a shelter in a different neighborhood or neighboring town to minimize the risk of running into their abuser.

"This is where you sort of understand how difficult it is to leave, because often someone might have to uproot their life for their safety," Pacheco explains.

For friends and family members, it can be heartbreaking not to urge loved ones to leave their abusive partners.

Pointed questioning can cause victims to shut down, as Smith reportedly did with members of her family. Victims might be hesitant to end their relationships for fear of further violence, and individual situations are nuanced and complex.

A bus waits outside of North Park Elementary School. Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images.

The best thing loved ones can do, Pacheco says, is offer unconditional support — and connect them to organizations that have the resources and expertise to assist.

"Use language that they’re using," he explains. "Maybe you notice a physical mark. You can say something like, 'I notice that you have this scar on your arm. What happened?' and sort of determine how comfortable they are speaking to that."

More importantly, friends and family can simply be present when victims are ready to seek aid.

And the most helpful thing?

"It’s really just to believe somebody," Pacheco says.

Fearing disbelief can dissuade victims from leaning on their loved ones for support. It makes it difficult for victims to go to the police to report early warning signs. And, most critically, it can dissuade them from seeking a safe way out.

Simply believing victims could go a long way to making tragedies like Smith's far less common.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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