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Five people shot dead at SunTrust Bank in Florida, suspect in custody

The suspected gunman allegedly called law enforcement to say he had fired shots. The victims “were senselessly murdered,” the police chief said.
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A suspected gunman was in custody Wednesday after five people were shot dead at a SunTrust bank in Sebring, Florida, according to police.

Police responded to the bank after the suspect called authorities around 12:36 p.m. ET and said he had opened fire inside, officials said at a press conference.

The Sebring Police Department said in a statement later Wednesday that the man called dispatch and said “I have shot five people."

A county negotiation team made contact with the suspect but was unsuccessful in de-escalating the situation, officials said.

Eventually, a SWAT team stormed the bank. The suspect surrendered and was taken into custody, Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund said.

“We were sorry to learn that we have at least five victims, people who were senselessly murdered as a result of his act in this bank,” Hoglund said.

The police chief identified the suspect as Zephen Xaver, 21, who lives in the Sebring area. The investigation into his motives is still ongoing, police said.

The names and ages of the five victims have not been released. Police said in the later statement that “they were the only five people in the bank at the time.”

"We've suffered a significant loss at the hands of a senseless criminal doing a senseless crime," Hoglund said in the statement. "This is something that you hope will never happen anywhere, much less in your hometown."

Xaver was hired by the Avon Park Correctional Institution as a trainee in November and resigned two weeks ago, on Jan. 9, according to the Florida Department of Corrections. He had no disciplinary issues during that time, the department said.

Image: Zephen Xaver
SunTrust Bank shooting suspect Zephen XaverHighlands County Sheriff's Office

SunTrust bank said it was "deeply saddened by the tragic shooting."

"We are working with officials and dedicating ourselves to fully addressing the needs of all the individuals and families involved," the bank said in a statement. "Our entire team mourns this terrible loss."

A witness told NBC affiliate WFLA that "at first [SWAT] hooked some cables up to it [bank door], tried to rip the doors off. The door handles came right off.”

"Then they just drove the SWAT machine right through the door," the witness, Stefan Roehrig, told the station. Photos and aerial video showed damage to the doors of the building.

Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman said Wednesday his office is working with Sebring police in the investigation.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was also at the news conference, said he has requested the state Department of Law Enforcement to provide assistance. DeSantis called it a "terrible day” for Sebring, Highlands County and the state of Florida.

"Obviously, this is an individual that needs to face very swift and exacting justice," DeSantis said.

Another media briefing is scheduled for Thursday morning, Blackman said.

"I have been in law enforcement all of my adult life and this horrific incident shocks and angers me more than anything I have encountered in my career," Blackman said in the statement.

"While we still don't know what drove the suspect to commit this heinous act, there is no excuse that can justify the cold-blooded murder of multiple victims," he said.

CORRECTION (Jan. 23, 2019, 10:32 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misidentified the source of information about Xaver’s employment with a correctional institution. It was the Florida Department of Corrections, not the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.