The suspect allegedly entered the bank and killed everyone inside before calling 911
Police do not know the motive of the suspect who allegedly entered a bank and shot the five people inside, all of them women.
Shortly after 12 p.m. on Wednesday, 21-year-old Zephen Xaver allegedly walked into a SunTrust bank branch on U.S. 27 in Sebring with the intention to kill, Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund said at a press conference Thursday.
Upon entering, Xaver allegedly took over the branch with force and opened fire on all five people inside. He then allegedly called 911 and “told dispatchers that he’d killed everyone in the bank,” Hoglund said.
Minutes later, first responders arrived on the scene and made contact with Xaver inside. He was allegedly holding the victims hostage and would not let authorities in to give them necessary medical attention, said Hoglund.
After several failed attempts to convince Xaver to let the women go, authorities sent a SWAT team in and the 21-year-old surrendered. But it was too late for the victims, who succumbed to their injuries before police entered, an emotional Hoglund said Thursday.
“Our community suffered a tremendous loss at the hands of a heinous criminal. Zephen Xaver knowingly and intentionally took the lives of five of our fellow community members, our sisters, our mothers, our daughters and our coworkers,” said Hoglund, saying the women were “victims of a senseless crime.”
Xaver has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder and prosecutors will be seeking the maximum penalty, said Hoglund.
The names of three victims were released Thursday: Ana Piñon-Williams, 38, Cynthia Watson, 65, and Marisol Lopez, 55. Watson was a customer in the bank while Lopez and Piñon-Williams were bank employees.
The families of the other victims, who were employees, asked officials to not release their loved ones’ information in accordance with a new law that allows for the shielding of victims.
“We will never forget Ana, she will forever live in our hearts and minds,” Piñon-Williams brother-in-law, Tim Williams, said at a press conference, according to news outlet WTSP. “Her life was truly a light in this world, she made it a better place. We are determined to let Ana’s memory be marked by the life she lived, the people she loved, and the difference she made.”
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On Thursday morning, Xaver appeared in court but did not enter a plea, ABC News reports. He had moved from Indiana to Florida last fall and up until earlier this month, was training to be a prison guard with the Florida Department of Corrections. His attorney information was not available Thursday.
There is no known connection between Xaver and the victims or bank.
“We believe it is a random act,” Hoglund said. “We are still trying to establish the gravity and nature as to why this occurred.”
Security footage from inside the bank is currently being reviewed by investigators, Hoglund said.
“We now begin the healing process,” he said. “We attempt to make sense of a senseless act.”