Police: 5 dead in shooting at Florida bank, suspect in custody

Law enforcement officials climb out a FBI mobile command center vehicle that is parked in front of a SunTrust Bank branch. Photo: P Photo/Chris O'Meara
Law enforcement officials climb out a FBI mobile command center vehicle that is parked in front of a SunTrust Bank branch.

January 23, 2019 07:24 PM

A gunman opened fire inside a Florida bank Wednesday, killing five people before surrendering to a SWAT team, police said.

The shooter called police to report that he had fired shots inside the bank in Sebring, about 80 miles southeast of Tampa. Negotiations failed to persuade the barricaded man to leave the building. The SWAT team then entered the bank, and the gunman eventually gave up, police said.

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

Authorities identified the suspect as 21-year-old Zephen Xaver, who was arrested at the SunTrust branch, Hoglund said.

Xaver briefly was an online student of Salt Lake City-based Stevens-Henager College. A spokeswoman for the college, Sherrie Martin, confirmed that Xaver was enrolled from September 2018 until December, when he withdrew. She said his residence was listed as Sebring.

Investigators did not offer any potential motive, and a police spokesman said he did not know if the attack began as a robbery. The dead were not immediately identified.

Gov. Ron DeSantis was in the region for an infrastructure tour and traveled to Sebring after the shooting. He said the Florida Department of Law Enforcement would assist Sebring police and the Highlands County sheriff's office.

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

An FBI mobile command unit arrived at the bank Wednesday evening to join the investigation.

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.

Meanwhile, police had wrapped up work at Xaver's nicely maintained, pre-fabricated home about four miles from the bank.

SunTrust Chairman and CEO Bill Rogers released a statement saying the bank was "working with officials and dedicating ourselves to fully addressing the needs of all the individuals and families involved."

The bank's "entire team mourns this terrible loss," he said.

Sebring is a small, rural city northwest of Lake Okeechobee. The Sebring International Raceway hosts an annual WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race.
 

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Credits

Associated Press

(Copyright 2019 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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