Five women killed at SunTrust Bank

SEBRING — An armed man entered SunTrust Bank in Sebring on Wednesday, Jan. 23 shortly after noon and according to Sebring Police Chief Carl Hogan, immediately after contacting the four employees and one customer inside, he shot them. After the shooting, the gunman reportedly called 911 and told the dispatcher he had just shot five people. Chief Hogan said the dispatcher was able to keep the gunman on the line until responders arrived at the bank

The sheriff’s department and police department arrived within minutes of each other and as soon as a crisis negotiator arrived, they began crisis negotiation. SWAT team was also called, and soon, explained Chief Hogan,it became apparent the gunman was not planning to surrender. At that point, the SWAT team entered by crashing through the front of the building with their vehicle and captured the gunman who was identified as 21-year-old Zephen Xaver of Sebring.

At that time, said Chief Hogan, they discovered all of the victims had succumbed to their injuries. The victims have been identified as Cynthia Watson, a customer, and bank employees: Marisol Lopez, Debra Cook, Jessica Montague and former Okeechobee resident, Ana Piñon-Williams, who had only been working at the bank for a few months. Mrs. Williams and her husband have seven children between them.

Mrs. Williams’ brother-in-law Tim Williams said, “Her life was truly a light in this world.” He offered condolences to all the other families of the victims. “We do not understand this darkness,” said Mr. Williams, “but with God’s help, we will overcome it. There is no law that can change the human heart, but there is a God who can. Ana found her life when she surrendered it to Jesus Christ, and we know that she did not die in that bank. We know that she’s alive today with her Savior. We are determined to let Ana’s memory be marked by the life she lived, the people she loved and the difference she made.”

It is not known whether the shootings began as a robbery. The investigation is ongoing. SunTrust Bank is meeting with employees and their families and trying to help and offer support in any way they can. They issued the following statement.

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 understanding the needs of all the individuals and families involved. Our entire team mourns this terrible loss.

Xaver was hired by Avon Park Correctional Institute as a trainee in Nov. 2018 but resigned on Jan. 9. He was charged with five counts of first degree murder and was denied bond. He was appointed a public defender.

Sheriff Paul Blackman of Sebring said the entire community is grieving and asks for prayers as they recover from this tragedy.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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