Those in the El Cid neighborhood doubted their instincts Monday while they stared at the crime-scene tape and the police command center that suddenly overtook 212 Pershing Way.
No. It couldn’t be the Bermans.
Their fears, however, were proven true as small details trickled out as day turned into night.
By 6 p.m. city police confirmed Alexander Berman, 16, and his sister, Jacqueline, 15, had been found dead in the pink house with the basketball net out front. The body of a woman, who police identified as Richard Berman’s ex-wife, was also found in the home.
The three appear to have died from gun shots in a murder-suicide.
“I can’t believe this could happen in our neighborhood, but I guess it could happen anywhere,” said Rod Tinson, a neighbor. “It’s a shame. It’s sickening to hear the teenage kids, too.”
The teens’ mother, Jennifer Berman, 48, sent emails to Richard Berman, her ex-husband and father of the children, and to other members of their family Monday morning, saying she was going to harm either herself or other family members, said Sgt. David Lefont, a city police spokesman.
After receiving the email, Richard Berman, 51, drove to the home, between Flagler Drive and Olive Avenue north of Belvedere Road, and alerted police at 8:06 a.m. Officers found Berman’s ex-wife and the teens dead.
Police interviewed Richard Berman throughout the day but determined he was not a suspect.
Richard and Jennifer Berman divorced in December. The home, which records still list the two as owning, has been in the process of foreclosure since 2010. It originally belonged to Jennifer Berman’s mother, according to court records, and had recently been sold. The mother and children were to move out in February.
Jennifer Berman held a real estate license and was also a nurse. She worked 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. caring for a 99-year-old man on Pershing Way. Gone throughout the night, Jennifer Berman worried about her kids’ safety but needed the money, said a friend who didn’t want to be identified.
In April, Jennifer Berman lost her divorce attorney because she couldn’t pay him. She also asked a judge to make Richard Berman, who is a Realtor, pay fees for attorneys and expert witnesses. In May she filed for temporary alimony, child support and other relief.
“The husband has not paid the mortgage on the former marital home during the entire time of the dissolution of marriage proceeding. He has not contributed to the support of the wife or of the minor children,” court documents read. “In fact, he has refused to pay for toilet paper, buys food and supplies for himself and keeps them where the wife and children cannot access them.”
She even had to sell her late father’s watch to buy gasoline, groceries, shoes and clothing, according to court records.
Richard and Jennifer Berman were married in Miami on Feb. 15, 1992. Richard Berman filed for divorce on Feb. 13, 2008, but it was never finalized. Jennifer Berman filed on Aug. 24, 2012, and the two remained living together for a while.
But about a year later, Jennifer Berman asked a judge to kick her ex-husband out because of “extreme emotional abuse and fighting (verbal) in home,” according to court documents. Records show he moved to the Northwood Historic District.
The parents agreed to share time equally with the children. Richard Berman spent Mondays, Tuesdays and every other weekend with Alexander and Jacqueline. They’d alternate holidays year by year and spend Christmas with mom and at least two nights of Hanukkah with dad. Birthdays would be spent with the parent who had custody on that particular day.
The teens attended Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach and were talented musicians who played in the orchestra, Alexander playing the cello and Jacqueline the violin. Alex would have turned 17 at the end of the month.
Grief counselors were at the school Monday and will be there as long as the students need them, a Palm Beach County School District spokesman said.
“It’s a sad moment in our district,” said Owen Torres, the spokesman.
Dawn Alba came to the El Cid on Monday afternoon and nearly collapsed after realizing it was Alexander and Jacqueline whose bodies had been found.
“They were like family,” Alba of West Palm Beach said. “They were fabulous kids.”
Neighbors said they knew the family and didn’t think there was anything seriously wrong in the parents’ relationship.
Lila Young, another El Cid resident, walked over to Pershing Way when she saw the commotion.
“I knew something was wrong here,” she said. “I wanted to make sure nobody needed help. How tragic.”
Young said she saw Richard Berman recently at a function by himself but didn’t know of the divorce.
Tinson said he knows the family and did appraisal work for Richard Berman. He met Jennifer Berman a few times and said she was friendly.
He said the couple once had him look at antique furniture they were interested in selling. He recalled Richard Berman built the yellow home across the street from where the family lived.
“It’s just awful,” Tinson said. “You hate to hear young kids aren’t going to get to grow up.”
Staff researcher Niels Heimeriks contributed to this story.