The latest breaking updates, delivered straight to your email inbox.
The friends and family of the man shot and killed by police after detectives say he crashed through the front gate of a West Palm Beach school and attacked an officer are remembering him and bringing more awareness to mental health issues.
Family of 33-year-old Romen Phelps say mental health issues played a direct role in what happened on May 13 at Dreyfoos School of the Arts.
People close to Phelps gathered outside of Dreyfoos School of the Arts on Saturday to honor his memory and try to remove the stigma of mental illness.
Family and friends lit candles for Phelps, who investigators say crashed through the front gates of the school, nearly hitting a staff member before getting into a struggle with a responding officer before that officer shot and killed him.
Police say the officer had no choice because Phelps was endangering everyone at the school and WPBF 25 News heard from students who say they were in fear for their lives when this happened.
The organizers of Saturday’s vigil for Phelps say their hearts are also with everyone at the school that day as well as the current parents of students at the school.
“This is something that we’re all affected by on different levels,” said Lynn Mckeel, Phelps’ friend. “They suffered trauma that day at Dreyfoos. They are still suffering trauma. I can’t imagine the pain that those parents were going through, but the point is that this is something that could have been preventable and it’s also something that the community is missing a really special person now and that person was not malicious.
“He was very sick and it’s also something that none of us knew he was sick when we were hanging out with him every day. We hung out with this guy for hours every day and none of us knew he was sick and I think that is something we should all think about is that if you’re so close to someone and you can’t see the signs, then what can we do to learn more just so that this never happens again?”
“Sadly, at the time we did not know (Phelps had mental health issues), we were unaware and it’s so sad because a lot of people have that story that we just don’t know when someone is suffering because mental health is such a stigma and it is our hope that we try to stomp out the stigma surrounding mental health and really just raise awareness,” said Danielle Kennedy-Palmer, Phelps’ friend. “Today is all about bringing awareness and celebrating the life that Romen led and to also just begin the healing process to the students, parents and staff. We want them to know that we are with them and we unify and we support them in their time of grief and the community at large.”
Phelps’ Dreyfoos classmates remembered their friend on Saturday by lighting candles, speaking about him and celebrating the arts, something he loved.
“He helped us a lot with our art and our creative process so we wanted to be able to give back a little bit of our creative process that was influenced by him as well as just letting the community know that we loved Romen,” said Mckeel.
“Mental illness is real,” said Robbin Jackman, Romen’s mother. “I don’t think it is really taken seriously enough. I think people just push it under the rug and kind of hide it and this is just going to be a big movement for Romen. “It’s been very, very stressful on our entire family, myself, my husband, my son, his cousins, his nieces, his nephews, just our entire family. We’re still in disbelief.”
People close to Phelps say they plan to hold more events bringing attention to mental health issues moving forward.
Stay informed: Local coverage from WPBF 25 News
Hearst Television participates in various affiliate marketing programs, which means we may get paid commissions on editorially chosen products purchased through our links to retailer sites.