By Kerry Sanders, Minyvonne Burke and Associated Press
The suspect in a mass shooting inside a Florida bank often thought about hurting people, a woman who identified herself as his ex-girlfriend says, as the man was charged with five counts of first-degree murder.
Zephen Xaver was arrested by a SWAT team Wednesday inside a SunTrust Bank branch in Sebring, Florida after he called 911 to say he opened fire. Four of the five victims were employees of the bank.
WSBT in South Bend, Indiana, reported that Alex Gerlach said she tried to warn people about the potential for harm by Xaver, a 21-year-old former prison guard trainee.
She told the station in a phone interview that for some reason, Xaver "always hated people and wanted everybody to die."
"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," she said.
Gerlach said "every single person I've told has not taken it seriously, and it's very unfortunate that it had to come to this."
Xaver, armed with a 9mm handgun, stormed inside the SunTrust branch around 12:30 p.m. ET and “overtook the bank by force," Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund said during a press conference Thursday. Xaver then shot everyone inside the bank, he said.
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“Yesterday, our community suffered a tremendous loss at the hands of a heinous criminal,” Hoglund told reporters.
Xaver was taken into custody just before 2:30 p.m. ET after negotiation attempts failed.
Two of the victims were identified Thursday by authorities as Cynthia Watson, 65, and Marisol Lopez, 55.
Lopez was a bank employee and Watson was a customer, according to police.
Maine Montague confirmed to NBC News that his wife, 31-year-old Jessica Montague, was killed in the shooting. The couple has a 3-year-old, he said.
The fourth victim was identified as Ana Piñon-Williams by her family during a press conference Thursday. Piñon-Williams was 38 and had seven children — three of them biological, ranging in ages from 11 to 29.
"Her life was truly a light in this world. She made it a better place. Ana was new to the SunTrust family but she loved her work and her coworkers," her brother-in-law, Tim 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."
All five victims were pronounced dead at the scene, officials said. Another employee at the bank was able to escape out a back door and called 911, sources told NBC.
Police are still trying to determine a motive for the shooting, but said during the press conference they believe it may have been a random act. Investigators said it's unclear if Xaver had any connection to the bank or anyone inside it at the time of the shooting.
During the rampage, Xaver was wearing a T-shirt that appeared to depict the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, from the Book of Revelation in the Bible.
"I would have never in a million years thought anything like this ever, ever would have happened," Sharon Spillane, Xaver's neighbor and a friend of his parents, told Fox13.
"They're a very normal family, he was definitely a normal person," she said, telling the station that she was "in shock" to learn that Xaver had been arrested for the mass shooting.
Gerlach also spoke with The Washington Post and said that Xaver told her last week that he had purchased a gun. She told the Post that "no one thought anything of it" because he had always liked guns.
Late Wednesday, police investigators still swarmed the bank, which sits between a hotel and a hair salon located in a business district of U.S. 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," Hoglund said during the news conference Wednesday. "We've suffered significant loss at the hands of a senseless criminal doing a senseless crime."