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Five Dead In Sebring Bank Shooting

Jan 23, 2019

Authorities say they’ve arrested a man they say opened fire in Highlands County, killing five people.

Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund said officers responded to a SunTrust Bank branch about 90 miles southeast of Tampa Wednesday afternoon. They found five people dead after a SWAT team managed to get inside.

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

Hoglund said at approximately 12:36 p.m. Wednesday, Sebring police and Highlands County Sheriff's deputies responded to a SunTrust bank branch after a man called police dispatchers and said he had fired shots in the bank.

Police say initial negotiations to get the barricaded man to leave the bank were unsuccessful. The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team entered the bank to continue the negotiations, and the suspect eventually surrendered.

Video footage from the scene showed a standalone, low-slung brick building with apparent damage to one of its main entrances.

The suspect was named as Zephen Xaver, 21, of Sebring. Investigators did not offer any potential motive, and a police spokesman said he did not know if the attack began as a robbery. The dead were not immediately identified.

Xaver briefly was an online student of Salt Lake City-based Stevens-Henager College. A spokeswoman for the college, Sherrie Martin, confirmed that Xaver was enrolled from September 2018 until December, when he withdrew. She said his residence was listed as Sebring.

Police said that an investigation is ongoing, but that there is no further danger to surrounding areas; local schools were locked down during the incident.

After saying he’d asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to give local investigators any help they can, Gov. Ron DeSantis said at the news conference, “this individual needs to face very swift and exacting justice.”

An FBI mobile command unit arrived at the bank Wednesday evening to join the investigation. Attorney General Ashley Moody and a team of victim advocates is also at the scene to support law enforcement and assist the family members of victims.

“Our focus is on helping the family members of the victims of this horrific attack receive the support they need in this extremely difficult time," Moody said in a press release. "I spoke to Sheriff Paul Blackman and FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen offering any and all resources our office can provide to help in the aftermath of this tragedy."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. called the shooting "tragic" in a tweet.

"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," SunTrust CEO Bill Rogers said in a statement. "Our entire team mourns this terrible loss."

Authorities have not yet suggested a possible motive.