Police ID suspect shot to death by police in Dreyfoos school incident as Palm Beach Gardens man




  • In US
  • 2022-05-14 11:48:45Z
  • By Palm Beach Daily News

The suspect who was shot to death by West Palm Beach police on Friday after he crashed a van into the Dreyfoos School of the Arts theater and engaged with a school police officer has been identified by police as Romen Phelps, 33, of Palm Beach Gardens.

Students were on campus at the time of the incident, which occurred about noon and caused a lockdown and panic among students and parents. Students were not in the main theater hall where the shooting happened, according to West Palm Beach police. Police said no students or faculty were injured during the incident.

Phelps, after crashing his van, tried to enter classrooms before attacking a school resource officer, then a West Palm Beach police officer before he was shot by the West Palm officer, according to an email sent late Friday by West Palm Beach spokesman Mike Jachles.

More: Van driver was fighting school officer at Dreyfoos when city police arrived, shot him dead

More: 'All of a sudden we hear screaming': Students tell what happened inside Dreyfoos during shooting

More: Van driver fatally shot by West Palm police on Dreyfoos campus. Here's what we know.

According to Jachles, the incident began when West Palm Beach police were alerted to a van heading the wrong way on Banyan Boulevard near Australian Avenue, four blocks north of the school.

Soon after, a van matching the description heading down Tamarind Avenue crashed through locked gates at the Dreyfoos campus, at 501 S. Sapodilla Ave. Police said the van continued through the campus, struck a breezeway, overhang and almost hit a school worker in a golf cart before hitting a palm tree and coming to a stop. That's when the school initiated a code red lockdown, according to police.

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The suspect 'violently attacked' the officer, police said

Police said witnesses saw Phelps get out of the van and run past students outside eating lunch then into a building. A school resource officer and the school's principal confronted Phelps inside the building, where police said Phelps got into a physical altercation with the officer and broke free, running towards the school's auditorium.

Police said an off-duty West Palm Beach police officer driving near the school at the time responded to the call for emergency backup and arrived soon after. The officer approached Phelps, who, according to police, "violently attacked the responding off-duty officer, who was forced to discharge his weapon, firing one round."

Other officers soon arrived and began CPR in an attempt to resuscitate Phelps, police said. He was pronounced dead at the scene by the West Palm Beach Fire Department.

West Palm Beach police said the shooting is being investigated by the department while the officer-involved shooting is being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The State Attorney's Office, the Palm Beach County School District Police Department and the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner Office also are investigating.

Students talk on the campus of Dreyfoos School of the Arts after a man made it out of a crashed van and into the school’s theater where he was engaged in a fight with a school police officer when a city police officer arrived and shot him to death Friday afternoon May 12, 2022.
Students talk on the campus of Dreyfoos School of the Arts after a man made it out of a crashed van and into the school’s theater where he was engaged in a fight with a school police officer when a city police officer arrived and shot him to death Friday afternoon May 12, 2022.  

Police have not identified the officer who pulled the trigger. Per department protocol following a shooting, that officer is on paid leave, Jachles said.

It is still unknown whether Phelps had a weapon.

"We were very fortunate that this suspect did not hurt or injure anyone else," Jachles said during a news conference at the scene Friday afternoon.

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Mike Burke agreed, adding, "I want to assure our parents that all of our students are safe and also the employees of the school district."

Dreyfoos is the Palm Beach County School District's premier performing arts high school. It sits north of Okeechobee Boulevard and just west of The Square. Roughly 1,400 students are enrolled, though on Friday, scores of seniors were not on campus, having finished the academic year the day before.

The Dreyfoos School of the Arts where police shot and killed a man who crashed a van on the property and ran into the theater on May 13, 2022 in West Palm Beach, Florida.
The Dreyfoos School of the Arts where police shot and killed a man who crashed a van on the property and ran into the theater on May 13, 2022 in West Palm Beach, Florida.  

'It was chaotic. I started panicking,' one student said

Lucas Solano, a freshman, said they heard a loud crash as they ate lunch. Immediately, they said, "Droves of people" began to run toward the cafeteria exit.

"It was chaotic," Solano said. "I started panicking, but they told us to calm down."

Lydia Akdag, a sophomore, said she was in the theater building when students began to run.

"What's happening?'" she shouted. Someone answered as they ran past: "There's a code red.'"

Akdag started to run, too.

Police gather evidence at the Dreyfoos School of the Arts where police shot and killed a man who crashed a van on the property and ran into the theater on May 13, 2022 in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Police gather evidence at the Dreyfoos School of the Arts where police shot and killed a man who crashed a van on the property and ran into the theater on May 13, 2022 in West Palm Beach, Florida.  

"I tried asking teachers, and all they said is 'We have it under control,'" she said. "But they're not really saying anything."

Teachers led her and a group of other students to the band room, where they waited with the doors shut and lights turned off. Everyone was silent, Akdag said. Police came in around 45 minutes later and led them, single file, to the cafeteria.

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"I've heard stories, but it doesn't really hit you until it happens to you," Akdag said. Indeed, the narrative is all too familiar: stories of running and hiding and texting loved ones while gripped by uncertainty.

"All of a sudden we hear screaming," said freshman Jaynald Obilas. "We just hear screaming from all over."

As a staff member staffer urged students to shelter in the nearest room, Obilas and a dozen classmates found themselves hiding in the nurse's office. The teen musician said he spent about two hours in that room, texting family members, peeking out the window and scanning the internet for updates.

About a dozen kids ran off campus heading northwest from the school and into Azul Stone, a granite and marble store on the corner of Tamarind Avenue and Fern Street, where they sheltered for about an hour and a half with two women working there.

Leah Harrison didn't see the van get onto school grounds, but she heard a loud crash at the end of the school's lunch period.

"A minute or two passed by, and that's when chaos broke out," she said.

A student from Dreyfoos School of the Arts sends a text from lockdown at school.
A student from Dreyfoos School of the Arts sends a text from lockdown at school.  

Harrison said she heard from peers that a man drove a van through the school's bus loop and he "jumped the curb and hit a tree."

"Everyone just started screaming like, 'Code red, code red,' and started running. It was crazy," she said.

As Obilas, the freshman musician, said as he finally walked off campus at about 3:20 p.m., "I'm just glad that it's all over and we're safe."

Two students walk by police cars outside of the Dreyfoos School of the Arts where police shot and killed a man who crashed a van on the property and ran into the theater on May 13, 2022 in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Two students walk by police cars outside of the Dreyfoos School of the Arts where police shot and killed a man who crashed a van on the property and ran into the theater on May 13, 2022 in West Palm Beach, Florida.  

In 2013, two custodians were killed on the a campus, which that was vacant of students. Christopher Marshall, 48, and Ted Orama, 56, died. Javier Burgo, who had been on the run for four years, was sentenced to life in prison.

Sonja Isger, Giuseppe Sabella and Katherine Kokal contributed to this report.

Sonja Isger is an editor and a veteran schools reporter at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at sisger@pbpost.com.

Katherine Kokal is a journalist covering northern Palm Beach County at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at kkokal@pbpost.com.

Giuseppe Sabella is a veteran schools reporter at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach him at gsabella@pbpost.com.

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This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Shooting in West Palm Beach at Dreyfoos School of the Arts

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