SEBRING, Fla. — Highlands County and state officials said they are working together to investigate Wednesday’s fatal shootings of five people at a SunTrust Bank branch.
- Sebring, Highlands officials say "no motive known" yet in shootings
- Zephen Xaver facing 5 counts of felony capital murder
- Investigators: Victims, all female, shot in back of their head
- Xaver had recently resigned as corrections officer trainee
Zephen Xaver, 21, is facing five counts of felony capital murder after police said he walked into the SunTrust off U.S. Highway 27 just after 12:30 p.m. and shot and killed five people.
According to Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund, Xaver "overtook the bank by force. He then shot everyone in the bank. After shooting them, he called 911 and told dispatchers that he’d killed everyone in the bank."
Xaver remains in jail without bond.
Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman said authorities have no motive from Xaver as of yet.
"We have no information as to what his true motive may have been," Blackman said. "We believe it was a random act. We do not believe anybody was specifically targeted."
Investigators determined the shootings happened in just six minutes, between 12:30 p.m. to 12:36 p.m. Investigators said all victims had been shot execution-style in the back of the head.
The names of four of the five people killed have been revealed. Officials on Thursday afternoon said customer Cynthia Watson, 55, and bank employee Marisol Lopez, 65, were among the dead. Authorities did not release the other names, citing privacy concerns under a Florida constitutional amendment similar to "Marsy's Law," but they said all the victims were women.
According to the Associated Press, a fourth victim has been identified as 31-year-old Jessica Montague by her husband Maine Montague.
Family members of 38-year-old victim Ana Piñon-Williams said at a news conference later Thursday that she had just started working at the bank branch and described her as a devout Christian and mother to seven children. Her brother-in-law, Tim Williams, described her as "family to everyone she knew."
Ana Piñon-Williams, 38, had just started at the SunTrust bank branch in Sebring, according to her brother-in-law. (Courtesy of family)
"We are determined to let Ana's memory be marked by the life she lived, the people she loved, and the difference she made," Williams said. "She accepted others where they were in life. Loving came easy for her. Loving her was easy. Living without her will be hard."
A sixth person?
The Sheriff's Office said Thursday that there was, in fact, a sixth person in the bank at the time of the shooting.
That individual, who the Sheriff's Office said they would not be identifying or releasing any other information about, was reportedly another bank employee who was in a back break room when the incident began.
That individual heard the shots, ran out a back door to the building and contacted law enforcement.
The Highlands News-Sun of Sebring reported that a bank customer who was trying to make a deposit said he saw the shooting victims through a doorway and also called 911. Victor Sparks told the paper that he went to the bank but couldn't get inside because the door was locked. When he looked inside, he saw the victims on the floor and a person walking among them. He and his wife then called authorities, the paper said.
No prior criminal history
Xaver had just resigned as a correctional officer trainee at the Avon Park Correctional Institution. The Florida Department of Corrections confirmed he'd worked there from November 2, 2018 to January 9.
"We’ve seen some press reports that this was a troubled individual which calls into question how he could have been accepted as a correction officer trainee just a month ago, late December by the state of Florida, how he acquired that gun," Sen. Marco Rubio said from Washington. "Clearly, it doesn’t seem to be someone who has a criminal background, so it would have passed a background check. So, these are complicated issues that unfortunately are all different from each other but we should wait to know the facts," he said.
The mass shooting was at least the fourth mass shooting in Florida with five or more dead in the past three years. In 2016, a gunman killed 49 at Pulse nightclub in Orlando; five died at the Fort Lauderdale airport in 2017; and 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in February 2018.
Officials said the investigation is ongoing and stressed patience as officials continue to investigate.
"We stand ready to assist (law enforcement)," Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said. "We stand ready to assist the victims' (families). We also are meeting with SunTrust representatives from around the nation so they can help the corporate family heal."
A vigil is planned for 1 p.m. Sunday at the Sebring Courthouse lawn, a SunTrust bank spokeswoman said. Gov. Ron DeSantis has ordered flags across the state to be flown at half-staff for the victims.
Brian Haas with the State Attorney's Office said the entire Highlands County community is hurting in "an unbelieveable way."
He added his office will work to make sure the criminal justice process goes as smoothly as possible.
"Any community that would have a case like this happen with five murders would be so, so difficult, but a community the size of Sebring, it's just unbelievable," Haas said.
"(But) if there is a place that can make it through this, it's Sebring. It's Highlands County. And we will."