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At least 5 dead after gunman took hostages at Florida bank

Sebring Police Department and Highlands County Sheriff’s Office responded to reports of shots fired at the bank shortly after 12:30 p.m.

by Tess Owen
Jan 23 2019, 10:11pm

At least five people are dead after a gunman took hostages at a SunTrust bank in Sebring, Florida, early Wednesday afternoon.

During negotiations, a SWAT team had to break the glass to the building to recover victims, at which point the gunman surrendered.

In a press conference, Police Chief Karl Hoglund said the gunman — identified as Zephen Xaver, 21, and a resident of Sebring — barricaded himself in the bank. It’s not clear how many hostages he took or whether they were employees or customers.

“Upon assessment, we were sorry to learn, we have at least five victims who were senselessly murdered,” Hoglund said. Law enforcement did not release any details about the victims or Xaver’s motive.

Sebring is a small community of about 10,000 people, located 85 miles south of Orlando. The local police department as well as the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office responded to reports of shots fired at the bank shortly after 12:30 p.m. local time. Law enforcement said the caller — possibly the gunman — told them that he’d fired shots inside the bank.

Overhead video footage from CNN affiliate WFLA showed a large police presence at the scene, as well as a SWAT vehicle and ambulances. The FBI is also assisting in the investigation.

“Obviously this is an individual that needs to face very swift and exacting justice,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appeared at the press conference alongside local officials.

According to Florida Today, Wednesday’s shooting at the bank is the 7th mass shooting in Florida — which has some of the nation’s most permissive gun laws — in less than three years. In 2018 alone, the state experienced three mass shootings.

Last November, a 40-year-old man who reportedly found solidarity within the “incel community” opened fire at a hot yoga studio in Tallahassee and killed two women and injured four others.

Last August, a 24-year-old gamer killed two people and injured 10 more before committing suicide at a video game tournament in Jacksonville. And last February, a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland left 17 dead.

Cover image: Law enforcement officials take cover outside a SunTrust Bank branch, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, in Sebring, Fla. Authorities say they've arrested a man who fired shots inside the Florida bank. (The News Sun via AP)