SEBRING, Florida (AP) — A former prison guard trainee who recently moved to Florida from Indiana killed five people during a standoff at a small town bank before surrendering to a SWAT team that stormed the building, police said.
Investigators said Zephen Xaver, 21, called police from inside the SunTrust Bank branch last Wednesday to report that he had opened fire. He barricaded himself inside and when negotiations failed, the SWAT team burst in, capturing Xaver and discovering the bodies, police said. Investigators did not offer a possible motive, and a police spokesman said he did not know if the attack began as a robbery. The victims were not immediately identified.
Late Wednesday, police investigators still swarmed the bank, which sits between a hotel and a hair salon located in a business district of United States (US) 27. The four-lane highway passes through farming communities and small towns as it connects South Florida and central Florida. Sebring, with 10,000 residents, is known internationally for its annual 12 Hours of Sebring endurance auto race that draws world-class drivers.
“Today’s been a tragic day in our community,” Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund said during a news conference. “We’ve suffered significant loss at the hands of a senseless criminal doing a senseless crime.”
Florida Department of Corrections records show that Xaver was hired as a trainee prison guard at Avon Park Correctional Institution on November 2 and resigned on January 9. No disciplinary issues were reported. Public records and neighbours said Xaver had arrived in Sebring last fall with his mother, living in a non-descript pre-fabricated home about 6.5 kilometres from the bank.
John Larose, who lives next door, said Xaver kept to himself, but he could hear him playing and yelling at video games in the middle of the night.
Xaver briefly was an online student of Salt Lake City-based Stevens-Henager College. A spokeswoman for the college, Sherrie Martin, confirmed that Xaver was enrolled from September 2018 until December, when he withdrew.
Governor Ron DeSantis was in the region for an infrastructure tour and travelled to Sebring after the shooting. He said the Florida Department of Law Enforcement would assist Sebring police and the Highlands County sheriff’s office.