In Florida bank massacre, one employee escaped as gunman started killing co-workers

A law enforcement official investigates the scene where five people were killed at a SunTrust Bank branch in Sebring, Fla., this week.
A law enforcement official investigates the scene where five people were killed at a SunTrust Bank branch in Sebring, Fla., this week.
(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

A bank employee escaped a massacre that killed four co-workers and a customer at a SunTrust branch in central Florida, running out a back door when the gunfire began, according to authorities.

The employee was 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 female employees of SunTrust and a female customer were killed in the bank’s lobby. Suspect Zephen Xaver, 21, was arrested after a standoff with police and faces five counts of premeditated murder. Brian Haas, Florida state attorney, has said it is likely 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 in nearby Lakeland, Fla.

SunTrust banks planned to observe a moment of silence Friday to honor the five victims.

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

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 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 about 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 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.”

Authorities 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 Williams.

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.

Xaver’s arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 25 in Highlands County court.