Suspect shot everyone inside SunTrust bank branch in Florida, police say
By Eric Levenson, Hollie Silverman and Darran Simon, CNN
The suspected gunman, Zephen Xaver, had no known connection to anyone inside the bank, and there was no evidence he wanted to rob it, Hoglund said a day after the quintuple homicide.
One of those fatally shot was a customer, Cynthia Watson, authorities said. The others, including Marisol Lopez, were bank employees. The other three victims have not been named, per relatives' wishes.
All the victims were women, but there is no evidence they were targeted, Hoglund said.
"We believe that it was a random act," he said. "We do not believe that anybody was specifically targeted."
Hoglund described the incident late Wednesday as a "senseless criminal doing a senseless crime." The suspect, wearing a shirt that read, "Death to the Wicked," entered the bank at about 12:30 p.m. with a gun and overtook it by force, he said.
After shooting everyone inside the bank, Xaver called police and bluntly told a dispatcher what had happened: "I have shot five people," he said, according to Hoglund.
Xaver appeared in court Thursday morning via closed circuit camera and was charged with five counts of capital murder. This time wearing a black-and-white striped jail uniform, he was ordered held without bond, the judge ruled, and appointed a public defender because he has no income or assets.
"I have been in law enforcement all of my adult life, and this horrific incident shocks and angers me more than anything I have encountered in my career," Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman said Wednesday night. "While we still don't know what drove the suspect to commit this heinous act, there is no excuse that can justify the cold-blooded murder of multiple victims."
Investigators and a crime scene unit spent hours collecting evidence at Xaver's home and talked Wednesday night with people who know him, according to CNN affiliate Bay News 9.
"This is a terrible day for Sebring, Highlands County and for the state of Florida," Gov. Ron DeSantis said.
Suspect surrendered to SWAT team
Xaver made his call to police shortly after 12:30 p.m., Wednesday, officials said. Sebring police and Highlands County sheriff's deputies responded to the scene.
Officers found the bank doors locked and the suspect barricaded inside with a 9 mm handgun and a bulletproof vest, according to the probable cause affidavit.
Initial negotiations to get the suspect to leave the bank failed, so a SWAT team breached the building at 1:54 p.m. and continued negotiating, Hoglund said.
All five victims were found lying face down on the floor of the lobby with apparent gunshot wounds to the back of their heads and upper torsos, the affidavit says.
Xaver surrendered to the SWAT team at the bank at 2:28 p.m., Hoglund said.
Besides the phrase invoking death, the front of Xaver's shirt bore an artist's rendering of four apocalyptic riders, video released by authorities shows. Images of an assault rifle and a scythe are on the back.
Josh Xaver, an Indiana resident who said he's the suspect's father, told CNN he's "heartbroken for the victims."
"He wasn't raised to be like this. He's always been a good kid. He's had his troubles," the elder Xaver said by phone, without elaborating. "But he has never hurt anyone ever before. This is a total shock."
Zephen Xaver moved to Florida about a year ago, the older man said.
Florida neighbor and family friend Sharon Spillane said the suspect's relatives are "just absolutely normal people." The suspect, she said, is "just very quiet."
"I can't comprehend it right now. I don't understand how or why or what. I just, you go to their house, you go to somebody's house and you're there, and you hang out with them, they're friends, and this happens," she said.
Xaver's mother was on a planned work trip when the shooting unfolded, Spillane said.
He had been a correctional officer trainee
Xaver was hired November 2 as a correctional officer trainee at Avon Park Correctional Institution and resigned two weeks ago, on January 9, said Patrick Manderfield, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Corrections.
Xaver withdrew in December as an online student at Stevens-Henager College in Utah, a spokeswoman said.
He was a student at Bremen High School in northern Indiana for a short stint during the 2012-2013 school year and returned for a brief period in the 2013-2014 year, district Superintendent Jim White told CNN. White said he did not have a photo to share "as he was never in attendance during the school picture day windows."
SunTrust Chairman and CEO Bill Rogers said bank officials "are deeply saddened by the tragic shooting" at the branch.
"We are working with officials and dedicating ourselves to fully addressing the needs of all the individuals and families involved. Our entire team mourns this terrible loss," Rogers said in the statement.
Sebring is in the south-central part of the state, with a population of just more than 10,000 at the time of the 2010 US Census.
"We ask that you please keep them in your prayers, keep them in your thoughts," the police chief said of the victims. "Help Sebring and our community stay strong."
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