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The Latest: Murder charges for man who said he shot 5 people

January 24, 2019

SEBRING, Fla. (AP) — The Latest on the killings of five people inside a bank in Sebring, Florida (all times local):

9:50 a.m.

A man who dialed 911 from inside a bank branch where he said he killed five people is being held without bond on five counts of premeditated murder.

Twenty-one-year-old Zephen Xaver was appointed a public defender during a brief court appearance in Highlands County on Thursday morning. He wore a black-and-white striped prison uniform.

Sebring police say Xaver called them from inside the SunTrust Bank branch in central Florida 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.

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7:50 a.m.

A witness is describing how police finally captured the suspect in a mass shooting inside a bank in Sebring, Florida.

Stefan Roehrig told WFLA-Ch. 8 that a SWAT team tried to storm the bank with an armored vehicle.

He says deputies attached cables to the door handles, but instead of ripping the doors open they just pulled the handles off. So Roehrig said deputies then drove the armored vehicle right through the doors. He says the SWAT team soon led the gunman out in handcuffs.

Zephen Xaver is in custody now, held for the deaths of five people.

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7:10 a.m.

A woman identifying herself as the ex-girlfriend of the suspect in a mass shooting inside a Florida bank says he often thought about hurting people and has long been fascinated with death and guns.

WSBT in South Bend, Indiana, reported that Alex Gerlach said she tried to warn people about Zephen Xaver’s potential for harm. Xaver was arrested by a SWAT team inside a SunTrust Bank branch in Sebring, Florida, on Wednesday after he called 911 to say he opened fire. Five people were killed.

Gerlach told the station in a phone interview that for some reason, Xaver “always hated people and wanted everybody to die.”

She said “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.”

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.”

The Washington Post also interviewed Gerlach, reporting among other things 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.

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11 p.m.

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 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 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,” 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.”

He said more information would be released at a Thursday morning press conference.

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