SEBRING, Florida. Police said Thursday that the perpetrator who caught up with the Florida branch of SunTrust Bank apparently forced the five women inside to lie on the floor of the lobby before shooting them in the back of the head.
Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund said there is no indication that Zefen Xaver intended to rob a bank, and there is no obvious connection between him, the bank, or the victims.
Xaver, 21, was charged with five counts of premeditated murder following the shooting of four bank employees and a client.
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“He took over the bank by force. Then he shot everyone in the bank, ”Hoglund said. “After shooting them, he called 911” and “told the dispatchers that he killed everyone in the bank.”
According to affidavits, all the victims were found lying face down in the lobby of the bank with gunshots to the back of their heads. Cases from Xaver’s 9mm pistol were strewn across the floor.
After he called 911, Xaver refused to surrender and did not allow officers to reach the victims, the chief said. After more than an hour of negotiations, the chief ordered a special forces group to arrive; they had to use an armored personnel carrier to break through the front doors. Xaver was found in an office at the back of the house.
By that time, all the victims were already dead, the chief said.
Hoglund identified two victims: client Cynthia Watson and bank clerk Marisol Lopez. Citing a version of the Florida Victims’ Rights Act, he said three families do not want their names to be revealed.
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The community mourns the loss of “our sisters, our mothers, our daughters and our colleagues,” Hoglund said.
The authorities ended their press conference after several questions and did not answer how Xaver got the gun.
Xaver wore a black-and-white striped prison uniform during a brief court appearance Thursday morning when he was appointed public defender and held without bail.
His father said he was “heartbroken by the sacrifice” and that his son “was not raised to be that way.”
“He was always a good kid. He had problems, but he had never hurt anyone before. It’s a complete shock, ”Josh Xaver told CNN. The Associated Press approached both Zephen Xaver’s parents for interviews, but there was no response.
This came as no shock to Alex Gerlach, who identified herself as Xaver’s ex-girlfriend. She said that he had long been fascinated by the idea of murder, but no one took her warning seriously. For some reason, he “always hated people and wanted everyone to die,” Gerlach told WSBT-TV in South Bend, Indiana.
“He got kicked out of school because he had a dream that he killed everyone in his class, and he threatened it for so long, and he had dreams about it and all that,” she said. “Every person I told didn’t take it seriously, and it’s a shame it came to this.”
Gerlach told The Washington Post that Xaver said he bought a pistol last week and that “no one thought about it” because he always liked the gun.
Xaver had a controversial educational history, with two school districts in northern Indiana claiming to have attended high school for several years but never graduated. Xaver was also an online student at Stevens-Henger College in Salt Lake City for a time. College spokeswoman Sherri Martin confirmed that Xaver was enrolled between September 2018 and December when he withdrew.
In Florida, he tried to be a jail warden: Florida Department of Corrections records show that he was hired as an intern at Avon Park Correctional Facility on November 2 and resigned on January 9. No disciplinary issues were reported.
According to official documents and neighbors, Xaver and his mother moved to Sebring in the fall from Plymouth, Indiana, a small town south of South Bend. They lived in an inconspicuous prefabricated house about 4 miles (6.5 km) from the bank. No one opened the door on Wednesday night after the police finished searching the house.
John Laroz, who lives next door, said Xaver kept himself apart, but he heard him play and shout at video games in the middle of the night.
It was at least the fourth mass shooting in Florida in which five or more people have died in the past three years. In 2016, a perpetrator killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub, five died at Fort Lauderdale airport in 2017, and 17 died in February at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in the Fort Lauderdale suburb.
Every Day is Florida Man Day: