PALM BEACH GARDENS — Some felt shock. Others felt relief. And all felt heartbreak Thursday as Palm Beach Gardens police announced they had arrested a 39-year-old man in the death of 14-year-old Ryan Rogers.
Investigators said Semmie Lee Williams Jr. will face a first-degree murder charge in the death of Rogers, who left his home on his bicycle at about 6:30 p.m. Nov. 15. Police found his body the next day after his mother had reported him missing.
"My heart hurts for the Rogers family," Mayor Rachelle Litt told The Palm Beach Post at a news conference announcing the arrest. "I'm relieved we have the answers we need from our police department. They're the best."
Police said Williams stabbed Rogers – a freshman at William T. Dwyer High School who lived in the Alton neighborhood along Donald Ross Road – multiple times in the face and neck during a chance encounter on Central Boulevard near the Interstate 95 overpass.
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William's arrest report shows how police used traces of his DNA left at the scene – and traces of Rogers' DNA found in Williams' backpack – to connect him to the murder. Police said they are not looking for any other people connected with the death.
Yet even with those disclosures, many questions about Rogers' death remained unanswered Thursday.
Palm Beach Gardens Police Chief Clint Shannon said police have identified no motive for the killing and that Williams has no known ties to the Palm Beach Gardens area.
Williams' arrest report shows he identified himself as homeless to police when he was arrested. Investigators said Williams spends most of his time on the streets of Miami and think he used several types of transportation to reach Palm Beach Gardens. He did not say how Williams traveled back to Miami, nearly 100 miles away, after Rogers' death.
"It's a mystery to us why this man was in our community," said Shannon said, who also said Williams was not on the police department's radar until the investigation into Rogers' death.
Shannon called the death "a random act."
Chief Shannon confirms the arrest of Semmie Lee Williams, 39, in Miami. Shannon calls him a “homeless drifter.”
Shannon says the homicide was a “random act.” He calls this an “innocent child victim having a chance encounter with a very violent criminal.” pic.twitter.com/vS7MVOZAbX
— Kati Kokal (@katikokal) December 2, 2021
Judge denies bail for Semmie Lee Williams on murder charge
Circuit Judge Charles Burton denied bail for Williams during a brief hearing Thursday morning at the Palm Beach County Jail. The hearing was done via video call from Williams' jail cell.
The Palm Beach County Public Defender's Office is representing Williams, and his attorney Thursday advised him not to speak in front of the court. Williams was kept in cell for medical reasons. The Public Defender's Office does not comment on open cases as a matter of policy.
Palm Beach Gardens Police highlighted Williams' previous run-ins with law enforcement Thursday morning, which include multiple arrests from 2004 to 2016 in central Florida, the Atlanta area and San Diego. He was found guilty of domestic assault in Seminole County in 2005, according to court records.
Williams' arrest report shows investigators believe he was walking northbound on Central Boulevard on the eastern sidewalk on Nov. 15 when Rogers crossed him traveling southbound on the same sidewalk, about 3 miles southeast of his home.
Rogers' cellphone data and video-camera surveillance footage from an unspecified nearby property show the two crossed paths at about 7:31 p.m. Shannon did not say what kind of confrontation led to Rogers' death.
Rogers' autopsy showed he was stabbed several times. His body was recovered out of sight of the street, about 24 feet from the sidewalk in a wooded area.
The arrest report shows investigators found a pair of headphones that didn't belong to Rogers at the scene. DNA evidence from the headphones matched Williams.
When he was arrested in Miami, investigators searched Williams' backpack and found a bloodied bandana that matched Rogers' DNA profile, the arrest report says.
A community in mourning
The mood outside the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department on Thursday was somber as city staff personnel, law-enforcement officers and a few members of the community listened for information on the investigation.
The Palm Beach Gardens City Council held a moment of silence for Rogers before their monthly meeting Thursday night, and Litt praised the work of city police in
Shannon said Rogers' family has been cooperative throughout the investigation. He met with them Thursday morning before the news conference, which they did not attend.
"We expressed our deepest sympathies," he said. "They are experiencing an unthinkable tragedy and have been experiencing an unspeakable loss."
Rogers was found dead along Central Boulevard near Interstate 95 on Nov. 16, a day after he was reported missing. That week, Palm Beach Gardens police called his death a homicide and have been working to identify people of interest since then.
More on Ryan Rogers:
On Monday afternoon, Palm Beach Gardens police said in a news release that they were working with "our federal and local law enforcement partners" to follow up on leads.
They appealed again for witnesses who were in the area of Central between PGA Boulevard and Donald Ross Road during the evening of Nov. 15, between 6:30 and 9 p.m.
Ryan Rogers' funeral: Soccer-themed celebration of life planned for 14-year-old killed last week
In their statement, police also addressed multiple reports of a man in dark clothing and a ski mask that have been circulating on social media.
Police said they investigated the reports, which dealt with a man approaching children around Palm Beach Gardens, and that they are not related to the Ryan Rogers homicide. Shannon reiterated Thursday that Williams was not the man in the mask that was reported by neighbors.
"We would strongly encourage our residents not to confront any suspicious persons and promptly report them to 561-799-4445 or 911," the statement said.
Last week police announced an $8,000 reward for any tips that could help lead to arrests and said they were increasing patrols in the area. That reward amount rose to $50,000 as individuals and groups contributed funds, Shannon said Thursday.
Rogers lived in the Alton community on Donald Ross just east of Interstate 95. Police say he rode his bicycle away from his home at about 6:30 that night.
He was a freshman at William T. Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens and was an avid soccer player.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Ryan Rogers murder: Semmie Lee Williams arrested by Palm Beach Gardens police