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Gunman in Florida apartment shooting lived in building, started fire

A gunman who seized hostages and killed six people in an eight-hour standoff that ended early Saturday at a Hialeah, Fla.,  apartment complex was a renter in who had set his unit on fire, police said.

Pedro Vargas, 43, was fatally shot by a SWAT team that stormed the unit after he took two hostages and three hours of negotiations fell apart. The hostages were not hurt.

Vargas, who lived with his mother in the 95-unit building, killed three men and three women in a shooting ramage that began Friday night, Hialeah police spokesman Carl Zogby said in a televised news conference Saturday afternoon.

When police arrived, Vargas was armed and had barricaded himself in an apartment with two hostages.  Vargas was killed in an exchange of gunfire with SWAT officers, police said.

Authorities in Hialeah, north of Miami, did not yet know the motive. Zogby described Vargas as a “quiet man” with an “unremarkable background.”  He was alone at the time of the shootings.

Vargas’s “irrational act,” Zogby said, began when he set his apartment on fire at 6:30 pm Friday. A married couple who managed the building, Italo and Camira Pisciotti, ran toward Vargas’ smoking unit.  Vargas stepped into the hallway and shot them.

“I went outside and my neighbors were screaming that my parents had been shot,” the couple's daughter, Shamira Pisciotti, told WPLG Local 10 television in an interview.

Vargas returned to the fourth-floor balcony of his apartment, from where he fired 10 to 20 shots into the street that killed Carlos Javier Gavilanes, 33, a father who was getting out of his car to return home, police said.

Vargas then kicked down the door of a third-floor apartment, where he shot and killed Patricio Simono, 64, Simono's wife, Merly S. Niebles, 51, and their 17-year-old daughter.

At that point, Zogby said, 100 members of the Hialeah Police Department streamed into the building past firefighters who had responded moments earlier to a call about the fire.

“Had we not cornered him, acted quickly and decisively, and entered and engaged, it could’ve been a much greater tragedy,” Zogby said.

Still armed with a 9-millimeter pistol and several rounds of ammunition, Vargas weaved through the building, eluding police gunfire for hours.

Vargas eventually took two hostages. After three hours of negotiations, their only picture of the shooter provided by a specialty robot, the SWAT team entered and killed Vargas as he returned fire and tried to fight, Zogby said.

The hostages, held at gunpoint and “in definite danger,”  were “shaken up but fine," Zogby said.

Zogby said he didn’t know of any disputes between Vargas and the building management. Investigators were searching for possible motives. Vargas doesn’t have a criminal history, he said.

“I’m torn apart,” Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez said at the new conference. “We’ve never had something so complex as we had last night.... It's an extremely sad day in Hialeah."

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Twitter: @benjmueller

benjamin.mueller@latimes.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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