SEBRING, Fla. — A 21-year-old allegedly shot five people dead Wednesday in a SunTrust bank in Sebring, Florida, then barricaded himself inside in what one official described as a “senseless criminal doing a senseless crime.”
The suspect, wearing a shirt that read, “Death to the Wicked,” then called police and bluntly told a dispatcher what happened, Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund said late Wednesday in a statement.
“I have shot five people,” Zephen Xaver said, according to Hoglund.
Xaver, this time wearing a black-and-white striped jail uniform, appeared in court Thursday via closed circuit camera and was charged with five counts of capital murder. He was ordered held without bond, the judge ruled, and appointed a public defender because he has no income or assets.
Still, a day after the shooting at the bank, many questions remain: Who were the victims? Why did this happen? And was there any way it could have been prevented?
Police are expected to speak more about the victims Thursday during a news conference. They have not been publicly identified, pending family notifications.
Xaver had resigned his job as a correctional officer trainee two weeks ago, authorities said. But law enforcement officials said they did not understand why he entered the bank and shot people.
“I have been in law enforcement all of my adult life, and this horrific incident shocks and angers me more than anything I have encountered in my career,” Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman said Wednesday night. “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.”
Investigators and a crime scene unit spent hours collecting evidence at Xaver’s home and talked Wednesday night with people who know him, according to Bay News 9.
“This is a terrible day for Sebring, Highlands County and for the state of Florida,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said.
Suspect surrenders to SWAT team
Xaver made his call to police shortly after 12:30 p.m., Wednesday, officials said. Sebring police and Highlands County sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene.
Initial negotiations to get the barricaded suspect to leave the bank failed, so a SWAT team entered the building and continued negotiating. The suspect eventually surrendered to the SWAT team at the bank.
Besides the phrase invoking death, the front of his shirt bore an artist’s rendering of four apocalyptic riders, video released by authorities shows. Images of an assault rifle and a scythe are on the back.
Josh Xaver, an Indiana resident who said he’s the suspect’s father, said he’s “heartbroken for the victims.”
“He wasn’t raised to be like this. He’s always been a good kid. He’s had his troubles,” the elder Xaver said by phone, without elaborating. “But he has never hurt anyone ever before. This is a total shock.”
Zephen Xaver moved to Florida about a year ago, the older man said.
Florida neighbor and family friend Sharon Spillane said the suspect’s relatives are “just absolutely normal people.” The suspect, she said, is “just very quiet.”
“I can’t comprehend it right now. I don’t understand how or why or what. I just, you go to their house, you go to somebody’s house and you’re there, and you hang out with them, they’re friends, and this happens,” she said.
Xaver’s mother was on a planned work trip when the shooting unfolded, Spillane said.
He had been a correctional officer trainee
Xaver was hired November 2 as a correctional officer trainee at Avon Park Correctional Institution and resigned two weeks ago, on January 9, said Patrick Manderfield, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Corrections.
Xaver withdrew in December as an online student at Stevens-Henager College in Utah, a spokeswoman said.
He was a student at Bremen High School in northern Indiana for a short stint during the 2012-2013 school year and returned for a brief period in the 2013-2014 year, district Superintendent Jim White said. White said he did not have a photo to share “as he was never in attendance during the school picture day windows.”
SunTrust Chairman and CEO Bill Rogers said bank officials “are deeply saddened by the tragic shooting” at the branch.
“We are working with officials and dedicating ourselves to fully addressing the needs of all the individuals and families involved. Our entire team mourns this terrible loss,” Rogers said in the statement.
Sebring is in the south-central part of the state, with a population of just more than 10,000 at the time of the 2010 US Census.
“We ask that you please keep them in your prayers, keep them in your thoughts,” the police chief said of the victims. “Help Sebring and our community stay strong.”