FORT MYERS, Fla. — When Kimberly Laurence saw her friend’s booking photo Wednesday morning she was in utter shock.
She had heard about the attempted bank robbery on Tuesday, where a SWAT team sniper shot and killed a man threatening hostages at knifepoint.
But she didn’t know until later that investigators said her friend, 36-year-old Sterling Alavache, was the suspect.
“I honestly, I was in shock. Because I can’t put the Sterling that we know, and that we love, and care about, even close to the person who did that,” said Laurence. “That’s not Sterling. That’s all I can think, that’s not who Sterling is…or was.”
Laurence first met Alavache in 2021, when he started volunteering at the Wintergarden Food Pantry in Port Charlotte.
Underneath his bright smiles, was the grip of addiction.
“What people are reading about what happened, that was his addiction,” Laurence said.
Alavache’s struggles with addiction are well documented.
In January of 2017, just two weeks after he moved to Southwest Florida, Alavache was arrested in Charlotte County for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
The police report says Alavache was wielding a knife and punched a passing vehicle.
He told responding deputies he was schizophrenic and struggling with addiction.
18 months later, Alavache was all smiles when he graduated from mental health court, one year sober.
“When he was clean and sober, he was this light,” Laurence said. “Anyone wanted to be around him.”
It’s not clear when he relapsed.
Just months after celebrating one year of sobriety, Alavache’s wife passed away from complications due to a brain aneurysm, according to an online obituary.
In 2019, Alavache was arrested twice in Charlotte County on trespassing charges, but he got clean again.
In September, Alavache posted on his Facebook page that he was one year sober.
However, around the same time of his sobriety, he announced to friends he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Laurence believes that might have sent him back into the spirals of addiction.
“I could never imagine him doing this. I know he did. And I feel for everybody involved and they must have been terrified. And that breaks my heart too,” said Laurence.
Police records show Alavache was a convicted felon in Massachusetts for property destruction in 2008.