Zephen Xaver killed 5 women at SunTrust

SEBRING, Fla. — The five people fatally shot in a Florida bank were all women and four worked for SunTrust, but investigators believe the rampage was a random act, authorities said Thursday.

Customer Cynthia Watson and bank employee Marisol Lopez were among the victims, Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund said. He said families of the other three people who died had requested the names not be released.

Investigators had not determined why Zephen Xaver, 21, barricaded himself inside the bank branch Wednesday and opened fire. Xaver walked into the bank at 12:30 p.m., “overtook the bank by force (and) shot everyone in the bank,” Hoglund said. 

At 12:36 p.m. Xaver called 911 and told the dispatcher he had killed five people, Hoglund said. Police arrived four minutes later. After Xaver refused to allow officers into the bank, a SWAT team rushed in at 1:54 p.m. and Xaver surrendered, Hoglund said.

Sebring Mayor John Shoop said residents of the quiet, central Florida town of 10,000 were stunned by the tragedy.

“We have not changed but our world has,” Shoop said. “This event will pass but unfortunately it will never be forgotten.”

A judge on Thursday ordered the former prison guard trainee held without bond on five counts of first-degree murder.

Xaver recently relocated to Florida from Indiana. Alex Gerlach told WSBT-TV in Indiana she had an on-and-off relationship with Xaver for two years, and had kept in contact every few months since. She said he often talked about wanting to hurt people.

“I never understood where it started,” she told the station. “For some reason (he) always hated people and wanted everyone to die.”

She said he bought a gun last week, but that she and others had shrugged it off because he alway liked firearms. 

“Every single person I’ve told has not taken it seriously, and it’s very unfortunate that it had to come to this,” Gerlach said.

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Xaver had been hired in November to work at the nearby Avon Park Correctional Institution. Spokesman Patrick Manderfield said Xaver resigned two weeks ago without explanation.

Xaver kept a minor presence on social media with a Facebook page that listed nine friends. The page shows he lived in Sebring and is single. But another Facebook Page, apparently set up when he lived in Plymouth, Indiana, shows an image of the Grim Reaper and a meme that reads, ‘God is busy right now…may I help you?’

“This individual needs to face very swift and exacting justice,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who joined the Wednesday afternoon news conference. He also asked the public to keep the victims and families in their prayers.

The shooting took place about 150 miles north of Parkland, where 17 students and teachers were killed in a 19-year-old gunman’s rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School less than one year ago.

David Hogg, who survived that mass shooting, took notice on Twitter: “Five people where killed today in Florida and our government continues to send their thoughts and prayers. #Enough”

Florida shooting suspect: Who is Zephen Xaver, man accused of killing five at SunTrust Bank?

The incident marks the 19th mass shooting in 2019, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a not-for-profit organization that provides online public access to information about gun-related violence. The numbers include incidents in which four or more people were shot or killed, not including the shooters, according to the archive.

Contributing: Mary Helen Moore and J.D. Gallop, Florida Today; The Associated Press

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