5 dead after shooting at Sebring bank

Suspect was a former correctional officer trainee hired by Avon Park Institution
Posted at 3:08 PM, Jan 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-24 04:22:05-05

SEBRING, Fla. — Police say five people were killed after a suspect barricaded himself inside the SunTrust bank, located at 1901 U.S. Highway 27 South in Sebring on Wednesday, and reportedly called 911 to tell dispatchers that he fired shots inside the bank, according to the Sebring Police Department.

Police officers and deputies responded to the scene and established a perimeter after receiving the call at approximately 12:36 p.m.

Police and deputies tried to negotiate with the suspect to get him to exit the bank, but their attempts were not successful.

Highlands County Sheriff's Office SWAT team responded and entered the bank to continue negotiations and the suspect surrendered peacefully and was taken into custody.

"Today has been a tragic day in our community," said Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund at an afternoon news conference. "We've suffered a significant loss at the hands of a senseless criminal doing a senseless crime."

Police identified the suspect as 21-year-old Zephen Xaver of Sebring.

According to officials at the Florida Department of Corrections, Xaver was a former correctional officer trainee hired by Avon Park Institution. He started on Nov. 28, 2018, but resigned on Jan. 9, 2019. He had no discipline while employed with the department.

"After an assessment to the scene we are sorry to learn that we have at least five victims. People who were senselessly murdered as the result of his act at this bank," Hoglund said.

The Sebring Police Department says they are not sure of a motive and the investigation is active at this time.

Police have not yet identified the victims.

Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared at the news conference and called it a terrible day for Sebring, Highlands County and the state of Florida.

"This is an individual who needs to face very swift and exacting justice," DeSantis said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement tweeted: "Our thoughts are with the Sebring Florida community after the deadly bank shooting today. FDLE agents and analysts are assisting Sebring Police Department with the investigation and FDLE forensic scientists are processing the crime scene."

Another news conference is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday.

SunTrust released the following statement:

We are deeply saddened by the tragic shooting at our Sebring, Florida branch this afternoon. We are working with officials and dedicating ourselves to fully addressing the needs of all the individuals and families involved. Our entire team mourns this terrible loss. Bill Rogers SunTrust Chairman and CEO