WEST PALM BEACH — A man made it out of a crashed van and into the Dreyfoos School of the Arts 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, West Palm Beach police spokesman Mike Jachles said.
Students were on campus, but not in the main theater hall where the shooting happened, he said.
Jachles said the city police were called to the campus when the van crashed and arrived within a minute of that call. About the same time, emergency operators had fielded another call regarding a wrong-way driver in a van of the same description.
It is unclear whether the man had a weapon, Jachles said at a press conference at the school. What was certain, he said, was that the man was behaving erratically and wound up in a fight on campus filled with students during the school day.
The city’s officer shot once and the man went down. Authorities began CPR immediately, but the man, who has not been identified, died.
Dreyfoos students and staff are all accounted for and unharmed.
“We were very fortunate that this suspect did not hurt or injure anyone else,” Jachles said.
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.”
The incident unfolded just before noon and shortly after dispatch operators received calls about a van going the wrong way on Banyan Boulevard, four blocks north of the school.
Students were winding up lunch period when the van crashed through the school’s closed back metal gates facing Tamarind Avenue. It plowed through campus, striking a palm tree, taking out several breezeway columns and narrowly missing staff in a golf cart, Jachles said.
The man then got out and ran around campus erratically. He was confronted by a school police officer in the auditorium. Jachles said the man was in “a violent confrontation” when a city police officer arrived and shot the intruder.
Police have not identified the officer who pulled the trigger. Per department protocol following a shooting, that officer is on paid leave, Jachles said.
Dreyfoos is the Palm Beach County School District’s premier performing arts high school that sits north of Okeechobee Boulevard 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.
Because lunch period was just coming to an end, not all students were in classrooms when the van crash threw the campus into an emergency lockdown.
Students at Dreyfoos School of the Arts describe the incident
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,” they 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.
“I tried asking teachers, and all they say 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.
“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 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.
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Across town, Bob Sullivan was shopping at Aldi when he received a string of text messages from his daughter.
“Hi dad we are on a code red right now. Its real. I love you,” she wrote.
Sullivan dropped his groceries and rushed to the school, imagining the “worst case scenario,” he recounted, fighting back tears.
Meanwhile, his daughter, an 11th-grade visual arts student, took refuge behind a locked door in a women’s locker room as the incident unfolded.
Sullivan arrived to a sea of red and blue lights. Standing behind a strand of yellow police tape near Fern Street and South Sapodilla Avenue, he read new text messages from his daughter.
She heard banging on the door, as someone announced, “Police,” but she was hesitant to leave. Coordinating her rescue from the outside of campus, Sullivan spoke with a police officer, who assured the father it was now “100% safe” for his daughter to come out of hiding.
All he could do was wait. Sullivan stared at the campus, eagerly awaiting news on his daughter.
Sullivan said his family lived in Parkland in 2018. They felt an immediate wave of grief that followed the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and on Friday afternoon, those memories came rushing back.
“She is safe but traumatized,” Sullivan said of his daughter.
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.”
In 2013, two custodians were killed on a campus 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.