Sebring shooting: No known motive for bank massacre

Posted at 12:05 PM, Jan 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-25 06:18:32-05

SEBRING, Fla. (AP) - The Latest on the killings of five people inside a bank in Sebring, Florida (all times local):

7:30 p.m.

A northern Indiana police department has released a 2014 incident report in which Florida bank shooting suspect Zephen Xaver, then 16, said he had dreams of hurting other students in a classroom.

The report released Thursday night by the Bremen Police Department says Bremen High School Principal Bruce Jennings contacted police on Feb. 20, 2014, after Xaver, then a student, reported having such a dream a previous night and again during a nap he took at school. The report says Xaver's mother agreed to take him to a behavioral health center, and police took no further action.

Police also released log entries of further incidents involving Xaver, including one in March 2017 in which Michigan State Police advised that a girl was receiving messages from Xaver that he was "possibly thinking of suicide by cop and taking hostages."


7:10 p.m.

A fourth victim has been identified after a shooting at a Florida bank that left five women dead.

Maine Montague tells NBC News that his 31-year-old wife Jessica Montague was killed in Wednesday's shooting.

He says the couple has a 3-year-old child.

Montague's name and the names of two of the other victims had been withheld by law enforcement officials in compliance with a newly passed victims' rights law in Florida.

The family of one of those other women has since released the information. One other name has still not been disclosed.


4:15 p.m.

The brother-in-law of one of the five women fatally shot at a Florida bank says she was a devout Christian who was "family to everyone she knew."

Tim Williams said at a news conference Thursday afternoon that 38-year-old Ana Pinon Williams just recently began as an employee of the SunTrust branch in Sebring, Florida, where a man shot the women execution-style on Wednesday. But he says she quickly came to love her job and co-workers.

Williams says his sister-in-law was a mother to seven children, "and family to everyone she knew."

He added that "loving came easy to her" and that "living without her will be hard."

Williams says his family believes in the power of prayer, unlike "those who say prayer is a useless act."

He said "these same people argue that we need to pass new laws and exert more control over people," an apparent reference to the calls for more gun control that have come after other mass shootings.


1 p.m.

A man who was trying to make a deposit at the bank where five women were fatally shot says he saw the shooting victims through the doorway and someone walking among them.

Victor Sparks is quoted by the Highlands News-Sun as saying that he and his wife went to the bank Wednesday but he couldn't get in because the door was locked.

Sparks says when he peered inside, he saw people lying on the floor and someone walking among them.

He says that as he turned and walked away, he heard a big bang. Sparks says he and his wife, Deanna Sparks, then called 911. He says police arrived on the scene within two minutes.


12:15 p.m.

Police say some of the names of the Florida bank shooting victims will not be released under a new state law passed by voters in November.

Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund said at a news conference Thursday that authorities would withhold the identities of three of the five female victims at the request of their relatives.

The decision marks the first high-profile use of a new constitutional amendment similar to a 2008 California initiative called Marsy's Law.

The amendment establishes the right to prevent disclosure of information that can be used to locate or harass victims or their relatives.

Police have identified the shooter as 21-year-old Zephen Xaver, who had recently moved to Florida from Indiana.

He has been charged with five counts of premeditated murder.


11:45 a.m.

Police say the man who confessed to fatally shooting five women in a Florida bank would not let authorities into the branch after more than an hour of negotiations.

Sebring, Florida, Police Chief Karl Hoglund said at a news conference Thursday that by the time a SWAT team breached the building "unfortunately, all victims had succumbed to their injuries."

A police affidavit says all five women were found lying face down in the bank's lobby with gunshots to the backs of their heads. The affidavit says shell casings from the shooter's 9 mm handgun were scattered on the floor, and authorities found the shooter in an office in the rear of the bank.

Police have identified the shooter as 21-year-old Zephen Xaver, who had recently moved to Florida from Indiana.

He has been charged with five counts of premeditated murder.


11:30 a.m.

Sebring, Florida Police Chief Karl Hoglund says they have no known motive for a massacre inside the SunTrust Bank branch.

He says 21-year-old Zephen Xaver has been charged with five counts of premeditated murder in the shooting deaths of four bank employees and a customer, all of them women. The chief says the shooter had no apparent connection to the women or the bank.

He says Xaver "overtook the bank by force. He then shot everyone in the bank." And "after shooting them, he called 911" and "told dispatchers that he'd killed everyone in the bank."

The chief said some of the families don't want their names released, citing Florida's version of a victims' rights law, but he did identify two of them - customer Cynthia Watson and bank employee Marisol Lopez. He said the community is mourning the loss of "our sisters, our mothers, our daughters and our co-workers."


11:10 a.m.

The father of an Indiana man who called police saying he killed five people inside a Florida bank branch says his son "wasn't raised to be like this."

Josh Xaver told CNN he's "heartbroken for the victims" of his son, Zephen Xaver.

Xaver said his son "wasn't raised to be like this. He's always been a good kid. He's had his troubles, but he has never hurt anyone ever before. This is a total shock."

The Associated Press has reached out to both parents of Zephen Xaver requesting interviews, with no immediate response.


10:45 a.m.

The superintendent of a northern Indiana school district says a man accused of fatally shooting five people inside a Florida bank branch attended classes there for portions of two school years several years ago.

But Superintendent Jim White of Bremen Public Schools says federal law prevents him from disclosing any details about any former student's school record.

White's statement Thursday said the district offers its "deepest condolences" to "friends, family members, and others impacted" by Wednesday's shooting in Sebring, Florida. He called it "a sobering reminder of how quickly a tragedy can befall upon any community."

White said suspected 21-year-old gunman Zephen Xaver attended Bremen High School for a portion of the 2012-13 school year and returned for a "brief period" the next year.

White told The Associated Press that Xaver did not graduate from the school after attending classes there during what would have been his senior year.


9:50 a.m.

A man who dialed 911 from inside a bank branch where he said he killed five people is being held without bond on five counts of premeditated murder.

Twenty-one-year-old Zephen Xaver was appointed a public defender during a brief court appearance in Highlands County on Thursday morning. He wore a black-and-white striped prison uniform.

Sebring police say Xaver called them from inside the SunTrust Bank branch in central Florida Wednesday to report that he had opened fire. He barricaded himself inside and when negotiations failed, the SWAT team burst in, capturing Xaver and discovering the bodies.


7:50 a.m.

A witness is describing how police finally captured the suspect in a mass shooting inside a bank in Sebring, Florida.

Stefan Roehrig told WFLA-Ch. 8 that a SWAT team tried to storm the bank with an armored vehicle.

He says deputies attached cables to the door handles, but instead of ripping the doors open they just pulled the handles off. So Roehrig said deputies then drove the armored vehicle right through the doors. He says the SWAT team soon led the gunman out in handcuffs.

Zephen Xaver is in custody now, held for the deaths of five people.


7:10 a.m.

A woman identifying herself as the ex-girlfriend of the suspect in a mass shooting inside a Florida bank says he often thought about hurting people and has long been fascinated with death and guns.

WSBT in South Bend, Indiana, reported that Alex Gerlach said she tried to warn people about Zephen Xaver's potential for harm. Xaver was arrested by a SWAT team inside a SunTrust Bank branch in Sebring, Florida, on Wednesday after he called 911 to say he opened fire. Five people were killed.

Gerlach told the station in a phone interview that for some reason, Xaver "always hated people and wanted everybody to die."

She said "he 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."

Gerlach said "every single person I've told has not taken it seriously, and it's very unfortunate that it had to come to this."

The Washington Post also interviewed Gerlach, reporting among other things that Xaver told her last week that he had purchased a gun. She told the Post that "no one thought anything of it" because he had always liked guns.

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11 p.m.

A former prison guard trainee who recently moved to Florida from Indiana killed five people during a standoff at a small town bank before surrendering to a SWAT team that stormed the building, police said.

Investigators said Zephen Xaver, 21, called police from inside the SunTrust Bank branch Wednesday to report that he had opened fire. He barricaded himself inside and when negotiations failed, the SWAT team burst in, capturing Xaver and discovering the bodies, police said. Investigators did not offer a possible motive, and a police spokesman said he did not know if the attack began as a robbery. The victims were not immediately identified.

Late Wednesday, police investigators still swarmed the bank, which sits between a hotel and a hair salon located in a business district of U.S. 27. The four-lane highway passes through farming communities and small towns as it connects South Florida and central Florida. Sebring, with 10,000 residents, is known internationally for its annual 12 Hours of Sebring endurance auto race that draws world-class drivers.

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

He said more information would be released at a Thursday morning press conference.

4:30 P.M.

Several of the victims from the shooting have been identified. Cynthia Watson, 65, a customer in the bank at the time of the shooting, and 55-year-old Marisol Lopez, an employee at the bank working when the shooting occurred, were the two victims identified by police during a press conference on Thursday. A third victim was identified during a press conference Thursday, Ana Pinon-Williams was identified by her brother in law.

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