Sheriff's office: 1 employee escaped Florida bank massacre

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SEBRING, Fla. (AP) — A bank employee escaped a massacre that killed five women at a SunTrust branch in Florida, running out a back door when the gunfire began, according to a sheriff’s office.

The employee was in in a back break room when the attack began in the Sebring bank, Highlands County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Scott Dressel said Friday.

“Upon hearing the shots, the employee ran out a back door and contacted law enforcement,” Dressel told The Associated Press. No additional information about the employee was released.

Four SunTrust employees and a customer were killed in the bank’s lobby. Zephen Xaver, 21, was arrested after a standoff with police and now faces five counts of premeditated murder. State Attorney Brian Haas has said it is likely that he will seek the death penalty.

“The death penalty is reserved for the worst of the worst first-degree murder cases. Given what I know about this horrific case, I certainly anticipate that the death penalty will apply,” Haas said in an email to The Ledger .

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One of Xaver’s attorneys, assistant public defender Peter Mills, said they have no comment on the case, and Xaver won’t be making any public statements. Xaver’s arraignment is scheduled Feb. 25 in Highlands County court.

SunTrust banks observed a moment of silence Friday afternoon to honor the five women.

In a Facebook post, SunTrust said the moment of silence was scheduled for 12:36 p.m. That was the time on Wednesday when Xaver called 911 and told dispatchers he had shot everyone inside the bank.

The shooting appeared to be a random act, not part of a robbery, and Xaver had no connection to any of the victims, Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund said Thursday at a news conference.

Xaver recently moved from northern Indiana to Sebring, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southeast of Tampa. He also recently quit his job as a prison guard trainee.

An Indiana police department released a 2014 report in which Xaver, then 16, said he had dreams of hurting other students in a classroom.

The Bremen Police Department report said the Bremen High School Principal contacted police after Xaver reported having the dream the previous night and again during a nap at school. The report said Xaver’s mother agreed to take him to a behavioral health center. Police took no further action.

Authorities also released log entries of other incidents involving Xaver, including one in March 2017, when Michigan State Police advised that a girl received messages from Xaver indicating he was “possibly thinking of suicide by cop and taking hostages.”

An Indiana woman who identified herself as Xaver’s ex-girlfriend has told reporters that he long had been fascinated with the idea of killing, but no one took her warnings about him seriously. His father told CNN that Xaver “had his troubles, but he has never hurt anyone ever before.”

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Police have identified four of the victims: customer Cynthia Watson, 65, and three bank employees: 55-year-old Marisol Lopez, 31-year-old Jessica Montague and 38-year-old Ana Pinon Willliams, a mother of seven.

In compliance with a newly passed victims’ rights law in Florida, police have withheld the name of the fifth victim at the family’s request.

The Western Journal has not reviewed this Associated Press story prior to publication. Therefore, it may contain editorial bias or may in some other way not meet our normal editorial standards. It is provided to our readers as a service from The Western Journal.

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