Florida bank shooter ‘fascinated with killing’

A man accused of shooting dead five women at a Florida bank has long been fascinated with death and guns, a woman identifying herself as his former girlfriend has said.

Zephen Xaver “for some reason always hated people and wanted everybody to die,” Alex Gerlach told WSBT-TV.

Police responded after receiving a call from a man saying: “I’ve shot five people”

On Wednesday, Mr Xaver called police from the SunTrust bank in the town of Sebring to report the shooting.

The 21-year-old surrendered after police stormed the bank, officials say.

Police chief Karl Hoglund said at a news conference on Thursday authorities have no information about Mr Xaver’s true motive at this time, but believe it was a random act of violence.

He identified two of the victims as Cynthia Watson, a customer, and Marisol Lopez, a bank employee.

The three other victims were also bank employees, but their families have requested that police not reveal their names.

“We now begin the healing process,” Mr Hoglund told reporters, voice heavy with emotion.

“We attempt to make sense of a senseless act. We attempt to mourn the loss of our peers, our neighbours, our mothers and daughters.”

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What do we know about the suspect?

Mr Xaver has been charged with five counts of premeditated murder. He was denied bond and remains in custody. Prosecutors will seek the maximum penalty.

Mr Xaver worked as a trainee prison officer with the Florida Department of Corrections, according to officials. There were no issues during his employment, but he resigned abruptly in January.

Speaking on Thursday, Ms Gerlach said that nobody had taken seriously previous threats made by her former boyfriend.

“He got kicked out of school for having a dream that he killed everybody in his class, and he’s been threatening this for so long, and he’s been having dreams about it and everything,” Ms Gerlach told WSBT-TV.

“Every single person I’ve told has not taken it seriously, and it’s very unfortunate that it had to come to this,” she added.

Zephen Xaver
Zephen Xaver barricaded himself in the bank and then began shooting, police say

She was also quoted by the Washington Post as saying that last week Mr Xaver told her he had bought a gun.

But she added that “no-one thought anything of it” because he had always liked guns.

What is known about Wednesday’s shooting?

The incident took place just after 12:30 (17:30 GMT) in Sebring, about 80 miles (130km) south of Orlando.

Police Chief Hoglund said officers responded after the suspect called 911 from inside the bank and said: “I have shot five people”.

The suspect, Mr Xaver, had barricaded himself in the branch and forced people to lie on the floor before he began shooting, they added.

When police arrived, they attempted to negotiate with Mr Xaver but it appeared he would not allow responders access to the victims.

Mr Hoglund then directed a Swat team to enter the bank. Mr Xaver surrendered and was taken into custody, but by then, the the five women had died as a result of their injuries.

Police say they were the only five people in the bank at the time and there are no known connections between any of the victims and the suspect.

“This horrific incident shocks and angers me more than anything I have encountered in my career,” said local sheriff Paul Blackman.

SunTrust CEO Bill Rogers said in a statement the company was “deeply saddened by the tragic shooting”.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the suspect is “an individual who needs to face very swift and exacting justice”.