WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A suspect who was driving a van in the wrong direction and crashed onto the Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts campus in downtown West Palm Beach was shot and killed by police Friday after an altercation, a police spokesman said.
The van was traveling east in the westbound lanes of Banyan Boulevard when it turned onto Tamarind Avenue and crashed through a locked gate at the entrance to the school on Sapodilla Avenue just before noon, West Palm Beach police spokesman Mike Jachles said Friday.
Witnesses told police the driver got out of the van, ran past students eating lunch outside and then entered a campus building, where he got into an altercation with a school resource officer before breaking free and running inside the auditorium, Jachles said.
An off-duty West Palm Beach police officer arrived within a minute of receiving the call and went inside the auditorium, where he confronted the suspect, Jachles said.
"At that time, there was a struggle," Jachles said. "There was some type of fight that ensued between the officer, school staff and the suspect. A West Palm Beach police officer discharged his weapon, striking the suspect."
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The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene, Jachles said. He was later identified as Romen Phelps, 33, of Palm Beach Gardens.
In a news release issued late Friday, Jachles said Phelps "violently attacked" the officer, who was forced to fire a single shot.
Jachles said there were no students in the auditorium at the time of the shooting.
"At no time were any students or faculty injured," Jachles said.
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Jachles didn't say if Phelps was armed, "but what I can tell you is, an intruder on a school campus crashing through gates acting erratically and violent, nonetheless, is going to be dealt with appropriately."
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After plowing through the gate, the van then crashed through a breezeway and narrowly missed a maintenance worker in a golf cart before slamming into a palm tree, Jachles said.
"A vehicle is a deadly weapon," he added.
Palm Beach County Superintendent Mike Burke said students were leaving campus in "an orderly dismissal."
"It's a very fortunate outcome," he said, commending West Palm Beach police for their timely response.
Burke said there were no immediate plans to review school security as a result of the incident.
"We have gates at 179 schools across our campuses," Burke said. "But they're locked and secured, and this is a rare event."
Adam Myers, president of the Fraternal Order of Police for West Palm Beach, released the following statement:
"The Fraternal Order of Police believes any loss of life is unfortunate. The officer who responded to Dreyfoos School of the Arts did so to aid Palm Beach County School District police and protect children and staff. If not for the officer's heroic actions, the resulting tragedy may have been much greater. Upon the conclusion of the investigation when all facts are known, we are confident the public will come to a similar conclusion."