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BY NICOLE ROJAS
ON 1/24/19 AT 10:23 AM EST
Five people are dead after a gunman opened fire at a SunTrust Bank in Sebring, Florida, on Wednesday. The 21-year-old man accused of being the shooter allegedly had a “fascination with death” and had spoken about killing before, his ex-girlfriend said after the rampage.
Authorities said Zephen Xaver took hostages at the Florida bank, force them to lie down on the floor and then began shooting. Xaver, from Sebring, called 911 on himself around 12:30 p.m. before barricading himself at the bank, prompting negotiations with law enforcement that included a SWAT team.
Zephen Xaver, 21, is accused of killing five people at a SunTrust Bank in Sebring, Florida, on January 23. Xaver was charged with five counts of premeditated homicide on January 24.
The 21-year-old eventually surrendered to police and was seen being taken into custody.
“It’s been a tragic day in our community,” Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund told reporters on Wednesday. “We have suffered a significant loss at the hands of a senseless criminal doing a senseless crime.”
Authorities did not clarify whether the victims were bank employees or customers. Victims were not identified as family notifications had not yet been made, police said.
Details about Xaver’s life began to emerge soon after he was identified as the shooting suspect. Xaver’s ex-girlfriend, Alex Gerlach, spoke to the Washington Post and revealed that he has spoken about killing people before.
Gerlach and Xaver reportedly met in a psychiatric hospital in 2013 in Plymouth, Indiana, and dated on and off for around three years, she said.
“Since the time we met he had this fascination with death,” Gerlach told the newspaper. “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.”
A friend of Gerlach, who reportedly received a message from Xaver the night before the shooting, told the Washington Post that he had once claimed he wanted to join the military “because he wanted to kill people.”
Xaver’s father Josh Xaver told CNN that he was “heartbroken for the victims” and his son. He revealed that Xaver had moved to Florida from Indiana about a year ago.
“He wasn’t raised to be like this. He’s always been a good kid,” Josh Xaver said. “He’s had his troubles, but he has never hurt anyone ever before.” He did not elaborate on what kind of troubles his son faced, CNN noted.
Law enforcement officials investigate the scene where five people were killed at a SunTrust Bank branch on January 23, in Sebring, Florida. The shooter entered the building and shot five and was later taken into custody.
JOE RAEDLE/GETTY IMAGES
While in Florida, Xaver worked as a correctional officer trainee at Avon Park Correctional Institution, Florida Department of Corrections spokesman Patrick Manderfield said. Xaver was hired on November 2 and he resigned just two months later on January 9.
“He had no discipline while employed with the department,” Manderfield told the Washington Post.
Xaver was also an online student of the Salt Lake City-based Stevens-Henager College for a brief time last fall, the Associated Press reported. A spokeswoman confirmed to the AP that Xaver was enrolled between September 2018 and December 2018, when he withdrew.
Authorities did not office possible motives for the shooting during the news conference on Wednesday. Governor Ron DeSantis did, however, said that Xaver was “an individual who needs to face very swift and exacting justice.”
Xaver was charged with five counts of premeditated homicide and ordered held at Highlands County Jail on Thursday.