DNA evidence led police to arrest a homeless man from Miami on allegations he murdered Ryan Rogers, a 14-year-old boy found fatally stabbed last month in Palm Beach Gardens.
Semmie Lee Williams, 39, was taken into custody from Miami on Wednesday, and booked into a Palm Beach County jail on a charge of first-degree murder with a weapon. A judge denied him bond Thursday morning.
The murder of Ryan, a freshman at William T. Dwyer High School, shocked Palm Beach Gardens and sparked an exhaustive murder probe. He vanished on the evening of Nov. 15, and his body was discovered the next day on a boulevard near Interstate 95.
Palm Beach Gardens Police Chief Clint Shannon, at a press conference on Thursday morning, said Williams had no ties to the city or county, and it was unclear why he was in the area. He said the case was one of an “innocent child victim having a chance encounter with a very violent criminal.”
“The incident itself appears to be a completely random act. We do not have a motive in this case,” Shannon said.
According to an arrest warrant, Ryan — who’d left home on his bicycle — appears to have crossed paths with Williams on a sidewalk on Central Boulevard around 7:31 p.m. on Nov. 15. His body was discovered the next day, and he’d been “stabbed numerous times in the head and face,” according to the warrant.
Investigators caught a break when they discovered DNA on Ryan’s headphones found at the scene. The DNA matched Williams, whose genetic samples were already in a law enforcement database because of his criminal history.
The Herald has learned that investigators were able to track Williams to Miami-Dade County thanks to his YouTube page, a little-viewed collection of bizarre videos. The videos also placed him in the area of Palm Beach Gardens around the time of the murder.
The videos on his page show a man who appears to be severely mentally ill. With titles like “gang stalking” and “evil stalkers standing in the middle of the road,” the videos show street scenes through South Florida, and a voice rambling about conspiracies.
“They have chips planted all over my body right and they reading my mind through my ears and they be tearing up my shoes,” the voice says in one video. “For the past 10 years, every city I go to, the police they hit me with electric weapons to give me cancer.”
The videos also show him wandering the streets in Miami, and visiting Camillus House, the downtown homeless shelter.
Miami-Dade police cold-case homicide detectives, working with counterparts from Palm Beach Gardens, tracked him down last Friday in Miami. He was questioned, and denied “any interaction with the victim,” the warrant said. Williams was not initially arrested as he was committed to a hospital under Florida’s Baker Act, which allows for the involuntary commitment of someone who is a danger to himself or others.
According to the warrant, Williams also had a green backpack — and inside was a bandanna that appeared to be stained with blood. Tests showed the stain included the DNA profiles of both Ryan and Williams.
Williams will remain jailed in Palm Beach pending trial.
State records show Williams has lived in Sanford, in Seminole County, just north of Orlando. His state criminal history includes several arrests, including for domestic battery and violating a restraining order in Seminole County in the mid-2000s.
His record also includes arrests for several assault and battery cases in Georgia in the past decade, Shannon said.
The chief said it was unclear why Williams had traveled to Palm Beach Gardens. “It’s a mystery to us why this man was in our community,” he said.
The arrest was a relief for Palm Beach Gardens, a small upscale town north of Palm Beach.
The murder of Ryan, an avid soccer player, had left the community on edge and sparked an around-the-clock probe including multiple police agencies. Miami-Dade’s cold case squad — Jonathan Grossman, David Denmark and Sgt. Mike Scott — stood behind Shannon during Thursday’s press conference.
“They literally dropped what they were doing and rolled out the red carpet to assist us,” said Shannon, a former assistant police chief in North Miami.