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'Erratic' driver shot and killed after crashing through gate and fleeing onto West Palm Beach school campus

Angie DiMichele, South Florida Sun Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A man drove a van through a locked chain-link gate at the school and jumped out, ran around the campus and eventually made it into a building with students and teachers inside.

Some students fled to a nearby Tri-Rail station. Some went into a business at the corner of Fern Street and South Tamarind Avenue. Others hid out in the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts for hours.

A West Palm Beach Police officer shot and killed the man, who police said was behaving erratically, inside the auditorium of Building 7 after a fight between police and the driver.

The driver was pronounced dead at the scene. No students or faculty were injured, police said. The officer is on administrative duty, as is standard procedure.

‘I thought it was fake’

The man was driving east in the westbound lanes of Banyan Boulevard before he crashed through the school’s locked gates on Tamarind Avenue, police said. The driver hit a palm tree and just missed a maintenance worker in a golf cart.

The suspect acted violently toward the school staff and West Palm Beach Police, who were on scene within a minute, spokesman Mike Jachles said. No information about the suspect or the officer who shot him was released Friday afternoon. The officer was put on administrative duty, as is standard procedure.

“An intruder on a school campus crashing through gates, running around an active school campus and acting erratically, will be dealt with appropriately,” Jachles said.

Building 7 includes an auditorium in the front and classrooms in the back. No students were in the auditorium, but they were in other parts of the building, Jachles said.

“What I know is the suspect was inside the auditorium … students who were in the building did not witness this,” Jachles said. “It was stopped in the auditorium.”

Audrey Dzwill, 15, and Evin Molina, 16, said shortly before noon they were leaving lunch in Building 7 when students suddenly started sprinting into the building. People were yelling out “Code Red,” which means there’s an intruder, the students said.

Molina and Dzwill, along with other students, fled the building and waited at the nearby Tri-Rail station for about 15 minutes, unsure of what was happening on campus. A teacher came over and moved them to a nearby business building where they waited for about an hour.

Molina and Dzwill were some of the first students to be dismissed shortly before 3 p.m.

“At first I thought it was fake,” Molina said. Until he heard a teacher shout to run.

Noise like an explosion

The school called police for assistance at 11:58 a.m.

The students and staff remained safe but under a lockdown as of 2:30 p.m. Friday, and a staggered dismissal plan went into effect, according to the School District of Palm Beach County.

By 5:30 p.m., the school and surrounding areas were clear, and all the students had left.

It was unclear why West Palm Beach police were tracking the van’s driver and why the person was shot. Jachles said he didn’t know how many shots were fired or whether the suspect had a weapon.

The School District contacted parents about 12:20 p.m. that a single-car accident on the campus was being investigated after an altercation between the West Palm Beach Police and the van’s driver. Dreyfoos was put into a Code Red lockdown, but parents were assured that all children were safe, and the Code Red was downgraded to a Code Yellow about 1:20 p.m. Friday.

“I visited with the students and everyone’s calm and collected at this point,” said Superintendent Michael Burke about 3 p.m.

 

Ninth-grader Emilie Paul, 15, was eating lunch outside with her friends when they heard a noise like an explosion. They initially thought it was a garbage truck but realized the sound was much louder.

“Then we saw a police officer start yelling ‘Code Red,’” she said. “And we saw people start running.”

Some students ran into the gym, where another student held the door open, Paul said.

“I was shaking the whole entire time, running with my bag … I was praying,” she said.

She and some schoolmates ran to the nearby Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, where she waited until about 2 p.m. “It kind of felt like forever.”

Crammed into bathroom

Kaia Dunn, 16, said she was at lunch when she saw the van hit the gate but thought it was a prank or a driver who had a medical emergency. The 10-grader said she realized something was wrong when teachers started running.

She and two other 10-graders, Sloane Lopez, 16, and Amelia Seguso, 15, waited for more than an hour in a bathroom inside Building 8.

Lopez and Seguso said they were sitting on the floor of the bathroom where about 30 students were crammed inside. Dunn was standing with others in a small entranceway outside the bathroom.

“It was just kind of silent,” Dunn said, as students were texting their parents.

About 40 students fled to a nearby business, Azul Stone on Tamarind, where they stayed for about an hour in the showroom. Owner David Nasser said some of the students had been there before to pick up samples for classes.

“They seemed very fragile. Their spirit was broken,” Nasser said.

West Palm Beach Police, Palm Beach County schools police, the State Attorney’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s Office are all investigating.

Friday’s shooting was not the first time somebody died on the school campus.

A man was sentenced to life in prison in 2017 for killing two co-workers on the Dreyfoos campus in 2013. Javier Burgos fled the country and spent four years on the run after the June 19, 2013, murders of Ted Orama, 56, a custodian supervisor, and Christopher Marshall, 48, a custodian.

School was not in session at the time of those shootings, and no students were on the campus.

The school district has set up an emotional support hotline for students or staff who may need to talk to a professional about Friday’s event. The line will be open Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The hotline number is 561-982-0920. People can speak to specialists around the clock by calling 211, the district said.

The Dreyfoos School of the Arts is Palm Beach County’s top performing arts magnet school, and students from all over the county attend.

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©2022 South Florida Sun Sentinel. Visit at sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
 

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