Deputies thought they were responding to an active shooter situation. It was a hoax.
PALM SPRINGS — With guns drawn and SWAT gear on, law-enforcement officers made their way toward what they were told was a deadly active gunman situation Thursday at a Palm Springs-area business.
A helicopter and drones flew overhead. They had the building off Lake Worth Road surrounded, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office records show.
As employees at Beacon Irrigation and Lighting walked out of the building with their hands above their heads, they had suspicions about what, or rather who, prompted SWAT members to swarm the business corridor east of Military Trail.
About 30 minutes earlier, Jeremy Riley had been fired for showing up nearly an hour late to his second day of work, said office manager Rhonda Oliva. Authorities say the 28-year-old made the hoax 911 call shortly afterward.
Deputies arrested Riley later that day on a charge of giving a false report of using a firearm in a violent manner. A judge ordered that he undergo a mental-health evaluation and be held in the Palm Beach County Jail without the possibility of posting bond. He was arrested at his home near the Palm Springs-area business, sheriff’s authorities said.
"We give them all applause and kudos," Oliva said Wednesday about the sheriff’s office response. "We wanted this guy caught and put in jail because it was just obviously wrong.
"Everyone’s preparing for a hurricane. … That’s the last thing we needed."
Oliva said Riley seemed a bit off during his first day of work, "but there was nothing that jumped out that said run the other way." His background check and references came back clean.
Riley spent his first day on the job working on pools, Oliva said. Another employee called her and said Riley didn’t have money for food, so she had someone grab him a burger, fries and a soda. She even paid him for the eight hours of work on the spot so he could cover his phone bill, she said.
When Riley showed up late the next day, the supervisor fired him. When the supervisor told Oliva, she said she didn’t question the decision. Being late, especially on the second day, almost always guarantees termination, she said.
Within 30 minutes, 911 dispatchers received a call:
"Yes, I worked at Beacon Irrigation and Lighting and there’s a guy here with a gun.
"He’s shooting people, please!"
The call disconnected.
As deputies approached the business, they talked to employees at a neighboring office who said they heard a gunshot about five minutes earlier. They weren’t sure from which direction the sound came.
Once deputies determined the area was safe, they listened to a voice message Riley left on the company’s main phone line:
"I promise you guys will regret it," he reportedly said in reference to his termination. "Save this phone call. You can use it as evidence.
"Karma is a (expletive)."
Records show Riley’s phone was pinging nearby, meaning he likely was in the area as deputies surrounded the business. A call to the number listed in sheriff’s records as Riley’s indicated the phone had been disconnected.
"It was horrific," OIiva said about the situation Thursday. "I don’t think I’ll ever forget that."