Former Prison Guard Trainee Kills 5 In Florida Bank Shooting

January 24, 2019 Updated: January 24, 2019

A former prison guard trainee killed five people during a standoff at a small town bank in Sebring, Florida, before surrendering to a SWAT team, police said.

Investigators have identified the suspected gunman as 21-year-old Zephen Xaver, who allegedly called 911 to report that he’d fired shots within the SunTrust Bank branch shortly after 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 23, killing everyone inside.

“We’re sorry to learn that we have at least five victims,” said Sebring police Chief Karl Hoglund, ClickOrlando reported. “People that were senselessly murdered.”

Police said Xaver had barricaded himself inside and when negotiations failed, the SWAT team burst in and apprehended the gunman. When SWAT members stormed the bank, they discovered the bodies of the victims.

mobile FBI command center
Law enforcement officials climb out of an FBI mobile command center that is parked out in front of SunTrust bank after authorities say five people were shot and killed on Jan. 23, 2019, in Sebring, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Video later emerged showing Xaver being “perp walked” in handcuffs to a police vehicle in the parking lot.

Suspect ‘Wanted Everybody to Die’

While authorities have not released information regarding the shooter’s motive, a woman who identified herself as his former girlfriend told a television station that Xaver had long been fascinated with the idea of killing. She added, however, that no-one took her warnings seriously.

Speaking shortly after Wednesday’s massacre, Alex Gerlach told WSBT-TV in Indiana that Xaver “for some reason always hated people and wanted everybody to die.”

Gerlach said that Xaver “got kicked out of school for having a dream that he killed everybody in his class, and he’s been threatening this for so long, and he’s been having dreams about it.” She added that “every single person I’ve told has not taken it seriously, and it’s very unfortunate that it had to come to this.”

The suspect’s former girlfriend told The Washington Post that Xaver had purchased a gun last week but that “no one thought anything of it” because he had always liked firearms.

Xaver’s next-door neighbor John Larose said Xaver kept to himself, according to ABC6, but he could hear him playing video games in the middle of the night and yelling.

A friend of Xaver’s family said nothing about the 21-year-old seemed out of the ordinary.

“I would have never in a million years thought anything like this would have ever happened,” Sharon Spillane told WFLA. “I am friends with his parents,” Spillane said. “We’ve had barbeques together. My nine-year-old goes down with me. We’ve cooked together. We’ve watched movies. They are a very normal family.”

A police spokesman told the Associated Press he did not know if the attack began as a robbery.

Sebring police chief and Florida governor at press conference
Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund wipes his head as he listens to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speak during a news conference, on Jan. 23, 2019, in Sebring, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

The victims were not immediately identified.

‘Senseless Criminal Doing a Senseless Crime’

“Today’s been a tragic day in our community,” Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund said during a news conference, the Associated Press reported. “We’ve suffered significant loss at the hands of a senseless criminal doing a senseless crime.”

Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who was in the region for an infrastructure tour and headed to Sebring after the shooting, called for the gunman to face justice.

“Obviously, this is an individual who needs to face very swift and exacting justice,” DeSantis said of the suspect.

SWAT vehicle outside bank
A police officer stands near a Highlands County Sheriff’s SWAT vehicle that is stationed in front of a SunTrust Bank branch in Sebring, Fla. on Jan. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

SunTrust Chairman and CEO Bill Rogers released a statement saying the bank was extending support to the victims and families.

“We are deeply saddened by the tragic shooting at our Sebring, Florida branch this afternoon,” Rogers said in the statement. “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.”

Florida Department of Corrections records cited by ABC6 show that Xaver was hired as a trainee prison guard at Avon Park Correctional Institution on Nov. 2 and on Jan. 9 he quit.

Public records and neighbors said Xaver and his mother moved to Sebring in the fall from Plymouth, Indiana.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @OZImekTOM
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