WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Several friends of Romen Phelps, the man who West Palm Beach police said crashed a van onto the Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts campus Friday and was killed by an off-duty officer in the school theater, said Phelps was a man struggling with mental illness and posed no danger to anyone.
“He was a mentally disturbed individual, a fellow Dreyfoos alumni theater student. He, you know, just wanted help, he sought help and it wasn’t given to him,” Skyler Meany, who spent several hours with Phelps the day before the incident, told WPTV on Saturday.
West Palm Beach police spokesman Mike Jachles said Phelps crashed a van through the school’s gates and then ran across the property, acting violent and erratic and resisting attempts to stop him.
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Jachles said Phelps “violently attacked” a responding off-duty officer, who fired one round.
Meany said Phelps spent several hours at his home Thursday, acting strangely and not wanting to leave.
“As the day went on, it became a more extreme departure,” Meany said. “By the time he came inside, he could n’t really speak much. He was sitting on the back of this couch right here, tapping his foot on it, just breathing really heavy.”
Eventually, Meany said, police and paramedics were called and took Phelps to a hospital.
Meany said he was surprised to see Phelps released within hours, telling him the drugs he got at the hospital didn’t slow him down.
Phelps then apparently got in his van going to Clematis Street for the night and at one point texted Meany.
“I would never do you harm, Skyler,” Meany read aloud from the text he received. “You molded my symbiotic state into a phoenix crystal. I am forever grateful. 4:52 am”
Meany said Phelps then dressed for his job as an electrician Friday morning, but instead went to the one place he cherished the most — his former school.
“I think he was trying to get himself arrested because he felt in danger of himself, so I think there was part of him that didn’t want this to happen,” Meany said. “He never wanted to hurt anybody. He was a good friend to me always. He was a good friend to anyone who knew him, and we all loved him.”
The officer who opened fire has been placed on administrative leave, which is department policy.