Armed with a gun, Zephen Xaver, 21, walked into a SunTrust Bank in Sebring, Florida, on Wednesday afternoon, took four employees and one customer hostage, and shot them dead. They were all women.
Then, Xaver called the police to tell them what he’d done.
While police made their way to the bank, just off a highway along Lake Jackson, dispatchers tried to keep Xaver on the phone. When SWAT arrived, he refused to allow officers access to the victims.
The police chief finally gave SWAT permission to break the bank’s windows and enter the building, and Xaver surrendered and was taken into custody. By then, all five women had succumbed to their injuries and were pronounced dead at the scene.
During a press conference Thursday morning, Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund said that three of the five victims’ families had requested their information be withheld. The other two victims, a customer and an employee, were identified as Cynthia Watson and Merciel Lopez, respectively.
“We have no information at this time as to what his true motive has been,” said Hoglund, who stressed that the investigation was ongoing and in its early stages. “We believe it was a random act, where nobody specifically was targeted.”
Hoglund also couldn’t say whether Xaver, who’s been charged with five counts of premeditated murder in the first degree, had the sole intention of killing people or if he also intended to rob the bank.
Law enforcement also didn't say what kind of gun Xaver had, but his ex-girlfriend, Alex Gerlach, told the Washington Post that Xaver said he’d bought a gun just last week. She wasn’t especially surprised given that he’d always liked firearms.
What we know about the shooter
Gerlach told the Associated Press that Xaver “always hated people and wanted everybody to die.” She also told the Post the two met at a psychiatric hospital in 2013.
“Since the time we met, he had this fascination with death,” Gerlach told the Post. “It got worse as we broke up. We got back together on and off for a while. Then I decided it was too much for my mental health.” She also said he aspired to join the military, because he wanted to kill people.
Two Facebook accounts linked to Xaver (which have since been taken offline) were littered with dark imagery, like pictures of the Grim Reaper. His interests include “Alex Jones memes” and “Milo Yiannopoulos,” whose book he gave a five-star rating.
According to Florida Today, Xaver took a job at Avon Park Correctional Institution, a men’s prison about 16 miles away from Sebring, in November but resigned on Jan. 9 without explanation.
Xaver originally grew up and went to school in Plymouth, Indiana, but moved to Sebring. He was also briefly an online student of Stevens-Henager College, a school based in Salt Lake City, from last September to December, when he withdrew.
In November, another mass shooting in Florida had only female victims. A 40-year-old man reportedly involved with the “incel community” opened fire at a hot yoga studio in Tallahassee and killed two women and injured four others.
Cover image: This undated photo provided by the Highlands County Sheriff's Office shows Zephen Xaver. Xaver opened fire inside a Florida bank Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, killing several people before surrendering to a SWAT team, police said. (Highlands County Sheriff's Office via AP)