5 women gunned down in Florida bank in apparent ‘random act’: Police

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Five people — all women — were gunned down inside a Florida bank in an apparent “random” mass shooting, police said Thursday.

Authorities raced to the SunTrust Bank in Sebring, Florida, on Wednesday afternoon after 21-year-old Zephan Xaver allegedly killed all five people inside the bank, then called 911, telling dispatchers, “I have shot five people.”

The 21-year-old was armed with a 9mm handgun and wore a bulletproof vest, according to the probable cause statement.

The victims were found lying face-down on the floor of the bank’s main lobby, the document said.

Xaver “knowingly and intentionally took the lives of five of our fellow community members…our sisters, our mothers, our daughters and our co-workers,” Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund told reporters Thursday, at times overcome with emotion.

PHOTO: Law enforcement officers stand near a Florida Department of Law Enforcement vehicle that is parked in front of SunTrust Bank branch, Jan. 23, 2019, in Sebring, Fla..Chris OMeara/AP
Law enforcement officers stand near a Florida Department of Law Enforcement vehicle that is parked in front of SunTrust Bank branch, Jan. 23, 2019, in Sebring, Fla..

Cynthia Watson, 65, a customer, and Marisol Lopez, 55, a bank employee, were two of the victims, police said Thursday.

The families of some victims requested their names not be released, police said. The three unnamed victims were all bank employees, police added.

Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman said the mass shooting “shocks and angers me more than anything I have encountered in my career.”

PHOTO: Police respond to the scene of a shooting in a SunTrust bank branch in Sebring, Fla., Jan. 23, 2019.WFTS
Police respond to the scene of a shooting in a SunTrust bank branch in Sebring, Fla., Jan. 23, 2019.
PHOTO: The SunTrust Bank branch is seen as law enforcement officials continue to investigate the scene Jan. 24, 2019 in Sebring, Fla.Joe Raedle/Getty Images
The SunTrust Bank branch is seen as law enforcement officials continue to investigate the scene Jan. 24, 2019 in Sebring, Fla.

Police said the motive is not known. Authorities do not believe anyone was targeted and said there’s no known connection between the suspect and victims.

“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,” Blackman said in a statement Wednesday.

Dressed in a black and white jail jumpsuit, Xaver appeared before a judge Thursday morning and was formally charged with five counts of “homicide murder premeditated.”

Besides a “yes sir” when informed of the charges, the alleged shooter said nothing in court.

PHOTO: Zephan Xaver, 21, is pictured in a booking photo released by the Highlands County Sheriffs Office on Jan. 23, 2019.Highlands County Sheriff
Zephan Xaver, 21, is pictured in a booking photo released by the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office on Jan. 23, 2019.

The judge said Xaver had “no income, assets, or dependents.” He was denied bond.

As authorities work to determine a motive, the suspect’s background is coming to light.

Xaver worked for two months as a correctional officer trainee but resigned in January, the Florida Department of Corrections said. He had no discipline issues and it was not clear why he resigned, a spokesperson said.

PHOTO: Shooting suspect Zephan Xaver is escorted by law enforcement in a video shared by the Highlands County Sheriffs Office in Florida, Jan. 23, 2019.Highlands County Sheriff
Shooting suspect Zephan Xaver is escorted by law enforcement in a video shared by the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, Jan. 23, 2019.

The mass shooting, which has left residents of the small city in shock, comes weeks before Florida marks the first anniversary of the Parkland school shooting in which 17 students and staff were killed.

The sheriff said, “I pray for the victims, their families and our community. This tragedy will have a lasting impact on Highlands County and likely this community will never be the same.”

PHOTO: Police respond to the scene of a shooting in a SunTrust bank branch in Sebring, Fla., Jan. 23, 2019.WFTS
Police respond to the scene of a shooting in a SunTrust bank branch in Sebring, Fla., Jan. 23, 2019.
PHOTO: Police respond to the scene of a shooting in a SunTrust bank branch in Sebring, Fla., Jan. 23, 2019.WFTS
Police respond to the scene of a shooting in a SunTrust bank branch in Sebring, Fla., Jan. 23, 2019.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called it “a terrible day for Sebring, Highlands County and for the state of Florida.”

“This is an individual that needs to face very swift and exacting justice,” the governor said of the suspect.

Hoglund said in a statement, “We will continue to investigate and work to see that the victims and their families are taken care of and that they receive the justice they deserve.”

ABC News’ Brandon Chase and Rachel Humphries contributed to this report.



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