Chief Karl Hoglund delivers an update on the SunTrust murders, Thursday, January 21. (WOFL photo)
SEBRING, Fla. (FOX 13) - Investigators still aren’t sure why a Sebring man walked into a bank and murdered five people yesterday, but they promised to seek “the highest penalty possible” for the 21-year-old accused killer.
Chief Karl Hoglund revealed few new details about yesterday’s murders during an emotional Thursday morning press conference. He fought back tears as he explained the timeline that began around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.
That’s when, he said, Zephen Xaver walked into the SunTrust branch on U.S. 27, armed with a handgun and wearing a bulletproof vest. “He then shot everyone in the bank,” the chief said.
Xaver allegedly called 911 and told dispatchers what he’d done. Highlands County deputies were on scene within minutes, and Sebring officers immediately followed. When they made contact with him on the phone, he told them he was armed with a 9 mm handgun and wearing a bulletproof vest, the affidavit said.
When it became clear that Xaver would not surrender or even allow medics to access the victims, the chief said he ordered the SWAT team in. Xaver was in custody by 2:30 p.m.
According to the arrest affidavit, the five victims were found laying face-down on the floor in the main lobby of the bank, each shot in the back of the head or upper torso.
“Unfortunately, all victims had succumbed to their injuries inside the bank,” the sheriff continued, his voice again faltering.
Hoglund said all five victims in the bank were women. He identified one as Marisol Lopez, a bank employee, and Cynthia Watson, a customer.
The brother-in-law of new bank employee Ana Piñon-Williams made a brief public statement Thursday to identify the mother of seven as the third victim.
"Her life was truly a light in this world. She made it a better place," Tim Williams said.
Families of the other two victims, both bank employees, requested that their names not be made public.
A sixth employee was in the bank's back break room at the time of the shooting, deputies now say. That person - whom investigators declined to name - safely escaped from the building and called police.
“We now begin the healing process,” Hoglund continued. “We will attempt to make sense of a senseless act. We attempt to mourn the loss of our peers, our neighbors, our mothers and daughters.”
Xaver, meanwhile, has now been charged with five counts of murder. He was denied bond by a judge during his first court appearance Thursday morning.
He had recently moved to Sebring from Indiana, and was a correctional officer trainee at Avon Park Correctional Institution from November 2018 through January 9, 2019. According to the Florida Department of Corrections, he had no disciplinary history during his employment.
There is no known connection between Xaver and the victims, the chief said, and it did not appear that there had been any attempt to rob the bank.
"We have no information as to what his true motive may have been,” continued Hoglund. "We believe it was a random act."
“We do not know what was going on in the mind of the individual who committed this atrocious act. But we do know he was influenced by the darkness in this world,” Tim Williams added. “We will not try to understand the darkness, but with God’s help, we can overcome it.”
When asked about the death penalty in this case, Hoglund deferred to prosecutors, but added, “we will seek the highest penalty possible to hold this person accountable for their actions.”