An ex-girlfriend of the man accused of killing five people in a Florida bank says he “always hated people” but that she thought nothing of it when he recently bought a gun.
Florida investigators on Thursday were trying to determine why former prison guard trainee Zephen Xaver, 21, barricaded himself in a bank in Sebring on Wednesday and opened fire before calling 911 and announcing “I have shot five people.”
Xaver recently relocated to central Florida from Indiana. Alex Gerlach told WSBT-TV in Indiana she had an on-and-off relationship with Xaver for two years, and had kept in contact every few months since. She said he often talked about wanting to hurt people.
“I never understood where it started,” she told the station. “For some reason (he) always hated people and wanted everyone to die.”
She said he bought a gun last week, but that she and others had shrugged it off because he alway liked guns.
“Every single person I’ve told has not taken it seriously, and it’s very unfortunate that it had to come to this,” Gerlach said.
Sebring Mayor John Shoop said his close-knit community was rocked by the attack and that “tragedies like this are not supposed to happen here.”
“Acts like this cannot deter us from living our lives freely from fear and deprivation,” the mayor added. “The path turned dark today, but as we move on we will grow stronger.”
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Xaver had been hired in November to work at the nearby Avon Park Correctional Institution. Spokesman Patrick Manderfield said Xaver resigned two weeks ago without explanation.
Xaver kept a minor presence on social media with a Facebook page that listed nine friends. The page shows he lived in Sebring and is single. But another Facebook Page, apparently set up when he lived in Plymouth, Indiana, shows an image of the Grim Reaper and a meme that reads, ‘God is busy right now…may I help you?’
“This individual needs to face very swift and exacting justice,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who joined the Wednesday afternoon news conference. He also asked the public to keep the victims and families in their prayers.
The shooting took place about 150 miles north of Parkland, where 17 students and teachers were killed in a 19-year-old gunman’s rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School less than one year ago.
David Hogg, who survived that shooting, took notice on Twitter: “Five people where killed today in Florida and our government continues to send their thoughts and prayers. #Enough”
Florida shooting suspect: Who is Zephen Xaver, man accused of killing five at SunTrust Bank?
Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund and Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman declined to elaborate on the motive for the shooting, which took place around noon at the SunTrust bank in Sebring, about 100 miles southeast of Tampa.
The county SWAT team was sent in after the gunman, who had barricaded himself inside, refused to negotiate with officers, Blackman said. Xaver was taken into custody.
“Our entire team mourns this terrible loss,” SunTrust Chairman and CEO Bill Rogers said in a statement.
The incident marks the 19th mass shooting in 2019, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a not-for-profit organization that provides online public access to information about gun-related violence. The numbers include incidents in which four or more people were shot or killed, not including the shooters, according to the archive.
Contributing: Mary Helen Moore and J.D. Gallop, Florida Today; The Associated Press