Four victims of SunTrust shooting were bank employees
Four of the five victims of a shooting Wednesday inside a SunTrust branch in Sebring, Fla., were employees of the bank and the fifth was a customer, authorities said Thursday morning.
At a press conference, Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund identified two of the victims as Marisol Lopez, an employee, and Cynthia Watson, a customer. The families of the other three victims had asked they not be named publicly, in accordance with Marsy’s Law, a victim’s rights law passed in Florida last year. All five of the murder victims were women.
Choking up at times during the news conference, Hoglund said that the shooter, Zephen Allen Xaver, “knowingly and intentionally took the lives of five of our community members, our sisters, our mothers, our daughters and our coworkers. Perhaps most unfortunate is that now we refer to them as the victims of a senseless crime.”
Xaver, age 21, appeared in the 10th Judicial Circuit Court early Thursday morning via video feed from the Highlands County Jail. He was arraigned on five counts of premeditated, first-degree murder, appointed a public defender and ordered held without bond.
First-degree murder is a capital felony in Florida, meaning that if the defendant is found guilty, the state may pursue the death penalty.
Speaking at the press conference, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said that the state would seek “the maximum allowed by law.”
Hoglund said that police are reviewing video surveillance footage taken from inside the bank, but have not yet determined Xaver’s motive and suggested it may have been a random act.
“We have no known connections to any of the victims at this time,” he said. “Aside from perhaps driving by and seeing it was a bank, we have no known motives that he targeted this bank for any particular reason.”
Hoglund did not comment on the weapon Xaver used or how he may have obtained it.
Police said Xaver called them shortly after 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, saying “I have shot five people.” Sebring police and the Highlands County SWAT team then responded to the branch on U.S. 27 south and set up a perimeter around the building.
Police tried to persuade Xaver to exit the branch, but when that failed, the SWAT team entered the building to continue negotiations, where he eventually surrendered.
Xaver is a resident of Sebring, though originally from Indiana, and according to reports, he briefly worked as a corrections officer trainee at Avon Park Correctional Institution. Local news outlets reported that he quit his job about two weeks ago and apparently had no prior criminal record as an adult.
The FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are assisting local authorities in their investigation.
“This event will pass, but unfortunately it will never be forgotten. It is now part of our history,” Sebring Mayor John Shoop said at Thursday morning’s press conference. “We will all grieve in our own way. We need you — everyone out there — to hug your family, your friends, your coworkers, anywhere you go, just to give them peace of mind.”
Dozens of representatives from SunTrust traveled to Sebring in the wake of the shooting, but none spoke at the press conference. SunTrust, based in Atlanta, has more than 400 branches in Florida.
“SunTrust has explained and wants you to know that their leadership is here. They are on site in Sebring, they are meeting with employees of the bank, they’re providing support to families of the victims and they are cooperating fully in our investigation,” Hoglund said.
Other industry representatives also expressed condolences and offered support.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the victims, including our four dedicated colleagues at SunTrust who lost their lives while simply doing their jobs serving their community, as bankers across the country do every day,” said Rob Nichols, the CEO of the American Bankers Association. “We have been in touch with the team at SunTrust, and stand ready to support them in any way we can.”