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Motive unknown after shooting leaves 5 dead at Florida bank, police say

SEBRING, FLA. — At least five people were killed Wednesday when a man, identified by authorities as 21-year-old Zephen Xaver, opened fire in a SunTrust Bank in Sebring, Florida.

"After an assessment of the scene, we're sorry to learn that we have at least five victims -- people that were senselessly murdered as a result of this act -- in this bank," said Sebring police Chief Karl Hoglund.

Hoglund said Xaver was taken into custody after SWAT team members negotiated with him.

Update 11:50 a.m. EST Jan. 24: Authorities continue to investigate why a man opened fire on employees and a customer at SunTrust Bank in Sebring on Wednesday.

"We have no information as to this time as to what his true motive may have been," Hoglund said Thursday at a news conference. "We believe that it was a random act. We do not believe that anyone was specifically targeted."

Hoglund said all five of the victims were women. He said Xaver had no known connections to any of the victims or to the bank.

"We will seek the highest penalty possible," Hoglund said.

WATCH LIVE: Update on Florida bank shooting

Police and deputies provide an update on the mass shooting at bank in Sebring, Fla. WHAT WE KNOW:

Posted by WFTV Channel 9 on Thursday, January 24, 2019

Update 11:15 a.m. EST Jan. 24: Authorities identified two of the people killed Wednesday when a gunman opened fire on employees and customers at SunTrust Bank in Sebring as Cynthia Watson and Marisol Lopez.

Hoglund told reporters Thursday that some families asked that their information not be shared publicly and that he will honor their requests.

"Perhaps the most unfortunate thing is that now we refer to them as victims of this senseless crime," Hoglund said at an emotional news conference Thursday morning.


Update 9:45 a.m. EST Jan. 24: A Highlands County judge on Thursday ordered Xaver held without bond as he faces five counts of premeditated first-degree murder, WTSP reported.

Authorities have not shared a possible motive for the shooting, which left five people dead Wednesday. A woman who identified herself as Xaver's ex-girlfriend told WSBT-TV that he often thought about hurting people and has long been fascinated with death and guns.

Alex Gerlach said she tried to warn people about Xaver's potential for harm, and that he "always hated people and wanted everybody to die," WSBT-TV reported.

Original report: 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.

Florida Department of Corrections records show that Xaver was hired as a trainee prison guard at Avon Park Correctional Institution on Nov. 2 and resigned Jan. 9. No disciplinary issues were reported.

The victims have not yet been identified.

SunTrust Chairman and CEO Bill Rogers released a statement saying the bank was “working with officials and dedicating ourselves to fully addressing the needs of all the individuals and families involved.

At approximately 12:36 p.m. Wednesday, Sebring police responded to a report of an armed person at the SunTrust Bank in the Florida town, according to WFLA.

The sheriff of Highlands County confirmed the incident saying that the armed person contacted dispatch, telling officials that he had opened fire inside the bank.

Police and deputies responded and tried to negotiate, but those talks were not successful, according to the Sheriff's Office.

The Highlands County SWAT team later entered the bank to continue negotiations with the alleged gunman, who eventually surrendered, the Sheriff's Office said.

A police commander had said "several people are down," WFLA reported.

Several ambulances were at the scene and businesses in the area of the bank were in a lockdown status, WTSP reported.

Law enforcement officials take cover outside a SunTrust Bank branch, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, in Sebring, Fla. Authorities say they've arrested a man who fired shots inside the Florida bank. (The News Sun via (AP)

Law enforcement officials take cover outside a SunTrust Bank branch, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, in Sebring, Fla. Authorities say they've arrested a man who fired shots inside the Florida bank. (The News Sun via (AP)) (AP)

The News Sun reported two schools in the area were on conditional lockdown.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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