A woman said she witnessed first-hand how a shooting unfolded Friday night in Wellington during a football game at Palm Beach Central High. Authorities say the victims were two adult males who were not students.
Robin Shecter, who lives in the nearby Olympia neighborhood, said she had dropped off her kids, 12 and 14, and was returning for them at the end of game. She said she phoned them to walk out and "all of a sudden two guys broke out in a fight." She said one of them pulled out a gun "and started shooting.”
“I mean, I was in a trance. I couldn't believe it. And one of them, somebody, hit my car. Then I saw what was going on. They said, 'It's a shooter!' I got out of my car, ran all over by the bleachers, looking for the kids."
She said she reunited with the teens and ran back to her car, falling once, and "then I drove out of there."
Full coverage: Wellington game shooting
The gunfire sent players and fans screaming and stampeding in a panic inside the stadium at Palm Beach Central High, located on the 8400 block of Forest Hill Boulevard, at around 9:10 p.m.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and School District said Friday night that the shooting might have occurred outside the stadium.
FHP spokesperson Lt. Alvaro A. Feola said in a statement early Saturday that both victims remain hospitalized, and one is critical condition. No information about the condition of the second victim was given.
Authorities also said that they did not have anyone in custody.
Eduardo Estela was selling Rita’s Italian ices when he said he was jumped by three unknown assailants. While Estela was fleeing the scene, the three hit him the head and knocked him to the ground. The assailants got away with Estela’s money box that had approximately $1600 inside. He was taken to Palms West Hospital and later released.
The scene Saturday morning on the campus was a quiet one, a stark contrast from the chaos of the previous night, with a few glaring exceptions — items including megaphones, footballs, water jugs were strewn across the area surrounding the field as the crowds dropped them or knocked them over as people fled the sounds of gunfire.
Chase Strelec, a member of the Palm Beach Central High School Student Government, said he was at the football game to rally his fellow students. He described the scene after the shooting as “Apocalyptic”.
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Teri Barbera said Friday night that she didn’t immediately have a motive but said it was not “a random act of violence.”
Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig said authorities found one victim on the school property and took him by Trauma Hawk to a hospital. She said the other person was taken by a friend to a hospital.
A helicopter was seen landing on the field as a man was treated on the running track.
Earlier reports said the violence broke out after a group of people “got into an altercation,” but Barbera said that turned out not to be the case.
Palm Beach County Schools police have asked the sheriff’s violent crimes division to take over the investigation.
Communications director at The School District of Palm Beach County, Kathy Burstein, said that all district outdoor activities countywide, including sporting events and practices and any field rentals by outside groups, have been cancelled for the rest of the weekend.
“Student safety and security is paramount on our campuses. While the investigation into this incident continues, District officials will be working to determine what additional safeguards are needed for Friday night football games,” Burstein said
Counseling support will be available from noon to 3 p.m. at Wellington High and Dwyer High for students, parents and staff affected by the shooting, said Amity Schuyler, the school district’s chief of staff.
Bustein said those who attend counseling should be prepared to show their student ID or staff ID number before entering the campus.
The teams were meeting for the Kickoff Classic, a preseason showcase of two teams considered contenders for the state championship.
The shooting occurred with Central leading 5-3 and with about eight minutes left in the game.
At the first report of trouble, the game stopped; players and coaches left the field and fans began moving out of the bleachers in confusion. Law enforcement officers with rifles were seen running.
Unaccompanied students attending the game were escorted to the bus loop by law enforcement, and frantic parents who came to pick up children were directed to the loop as well, schools spokeswoman Kathy Burstein said. She said Dwyer players were taken back to their school.
Lynn Monnette had come with her husband and another son to see her son Matt, who plays offense for Central. As the fourth quarter ran down, the normal hum of the crowd was interrupted.
"We heard four pops. It was under where the band sits at the south end of the bleachers," Monnette said later as she sat in traffic trying to get out of the parking lot. Behind her, sirens wailed.
Within seconds of the pops, she said, "shoes were flying everywhere. Personal belongings. And people were screaming and running."
It took only a few more seconds, she said, for a massive police presence to arrive.
"We saw lights instantly," she said. "We're all waiting and finally the school security came through and said, 'We're evacuating. The police want us evacuated. We need you to leave now.' That's when we saw the SWAT people.”
She said she was able to connect with her younger son, who had been with friends in another corner of the stands, and with Matt, who'd been herded into the Central locker room with the rest of his team.
"He (Matt) said when he heard the shots he started running off the field," she said.
Dwyer players, the visitors, had no locker room to go to and were led to a corner of the field.
"It was just a normal Friday night game and everybody's playing, everybody's having a good time," said Ivan Najera, a junior kicker for Central. "And then out of nowhere four shots went off by the bus loop area, and kids start running everywhere. Kids from the bleachers were running everywhere and no one knew what to do. It's crazy.”
“The game was going on and I was just paying attention and then, you know how fireworks are, I turned around and I thought it was a firework,” Central running back Derrick Cruickshank said.“You hear a few more shots and then things got real and I turned one more time to see everyone in the stands running.”
He said players shed their gear and some scrambled over a high gate to get off the field.
“We were just playing the game, the game of football that everybody loves, but sadly we didn’t get to see the game end,” he said. “It just came down to the wrong time and wrong place.”
Central sophomore Leonardo Moreno, 15, was in the stands Friday night when he saw the football players running off the field for cover.
“I saw people running and screaming and crying and was like, ‘Oh my God, what happened?’” he said.
Someone told him there had been a shooting so he squatted in the stands, then stood and started to run. He found his friend and his younger brother before finding a way off campus and toward Forest Hill Boulevard.
There he reached his mother Veronica by phone. Tearful and shaking, she embraced the teens in the parking lot of the Chase Bank at Forest Hill and State Road 7.
Leonardo said this was just his second high school football game.
“I had so much fun at the last one,” he said, his voice trembling. “And then this happens.”
Anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-458-TIPS.
Staff writer Cecelia Mazanec and staff photographer Allen Eyestone contributed to this story.