Reflections on the North Park Elementary School Shooting

When I heard the news that another shooting happened in San Bernardino I couldn’t believe a city so close to home was facing another tragedy. As the story unfolded we were told that the North Park Elementary Shooting was a murder-suicide. Once we got more facts it became apparent, this wasn’t just a murder-suicide, this was domestic violence. After the story unfolded, the media coverage died down, but why? Because this wasn’t the terrorism we thought it was? By definition of the word, domestic violence is a terrorist act that happens every day.

Karen Smith was tragically killed by her husband that day, as was her student Jonathan Martinez. This shooting was “textbook” domestic violence, and since the media didn’t explain it that way, I’d like to here. This is what we can learn from that horrible day:

The most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is when they leave
“Why doesn’t he/she just leave?” How many times have you heard someone say that when referring to domestic violence? It’s a fact that the most dangerous time for a victim in an abusive relationship is when they decide to leave. Seventy-five percent of victims killed by an intimate partner were killed as they attempted to leave the relationship or after the relationship had ended. Why? Because domestic violence is about power and control. Once the victim leaves the abusive relationship, the abuser is losing power over them. Therefore, the abuser will do whatever it takes to gain that control back. To learn more about safety planning after leaving an abusive relationship, look here.

Domestic violence is a cycle and a pattern of abusive behaviors
If domestic violence was a one-time incident, it would be a lot easier to escape the abuse, but it’s not. It is a pattern of abusive or coercive behaviors to gain power and control over another person. And it’s not always bad. Just a month before Karen was shot, her husband posted on Facebook that she was “an angel.” There is a cycle in abusive relationships, it starts off great in the honeymoon phase, then escalates to the tension building phase where the victim may feel like he/she is walking on egg shells, then to the explosion phase where the abuse occurs. The abuser apologizes and may blame the abuse on the victim or something else and then the cycle starts over again. As the relationship gets longer, the abuse in the explosion phase gets worse. To learn more about the cycle of violence, look here.

Domestic violence is a community issue

Please, stop saying domestic violence is a “family issue.” Two students were also shot, and one was tragically killed. Parents, teacher, students and friends were also affected. From what I’ve read, Karen kept the abuse in her relationship to herself, but I want readers to know the state of California protects employees who are victims of domestic violence. Because domestic violence is a community issue, your employer cannot discriminate if you are in an abusive relationship. From Your employer must allow you to use your vacation days, personal leave days, or compensatory time so that you can take actions to protect the health or safety of you or your children from domestic violence or sexual assault (by getting a restraining order, for example).  Your employer is not allowed to fire you, harass you, discriminate or retaliate against you (punish you), for taking time off to deal with domestic violence or sexual assault issues against you or your children. This law applies to companies of any size with any number of employees. More information regarding these laws can be found here. is a great resource and I encourage you to explore the site to learn more about all laws in the state regarding violence against women.

The presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide for women by 500%
When an abuser has access to firearms, statistics show that the risk of death increases greatly. According to research published in the American Journal of Public Health, the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent. Yes, by 500 percent. The state of California has laws that prohibit abusers who were convicted of domestic violence crimes to give up their firearms, but that didn’t stop the husband of Karen Smith, however it is still important to know that guns in an abusive household make the situation much worse.


I encourage everyone in an abusive relationship to reach out and speak to someone about their safety. Our advocates have safety assessments they do with clients and together the advocate and client can tailor a specific safety plan. This shooting can be a message that you are not alone and that there is help. We are a safe place and we are here for you. Our hearts are with Karen’s family and we will continue to fight for lives like hers.