Florida’s ST. Petersburg (AP) — Five ladies were fatally murdered at a bank branch in a small town in 2019 according to a confession made by a Florida man, who will face life in prison or the death penalty in the penalty phase the following year.
According to court documents, Zephen Xaver, 25, was convicted on Tuesday on five charges of first-degree murder. His initial trial date was set for January in Sebring, which is located about 84 miles (135 kilometers) southeast of Tampa. He had already entered a plea of not guilty.
According to a decision made by a judge in Highlands County, the criminal phase of the case will now start on January 16, 2024.
On January 23, 2019, Xaver acknowledged shooting four SunTrust Bank branch staff and one client. According to authorities, all five of the female victims were forced to lie on the ground before being shot one at a time. They noted that Xaver had no link to the victims and that robbery didn’t seem to be the intended motive.
Karl Hoglund, the police chief of Sebring, stated shortly after the killings, “We feel it was a random act. We have no proof that he assaulted this bank for any purpose, other than the possibility that he was driving by and noticed it was a bank.
According to investigators, Xaver dialed 911 from the bank, explained what he had done to the dispatcher, and then resisted being forced to leave the building when highly armed police arrived. Xaver finally gave up after a two-hour confrontation and was taken into custody, where he has stayed ever since.
On that particular day, Ana Pion-Williams, Debra Cook, Marisol Lopez, and Jessica Montague were all killed while working at SunTrust. Cynthia Watson was the client who passed away. Authorities claimed a worker who was in a rear room managed to escape the mayhem.
There were unsettling indications that Xaver, who had previously lived in Indiana, was obsessed with firearms and murder. After the killings, a previous girlfriend said that Xaver had confessed to having nightmares about harming other kids while still in high school.
After the killings in Florida, the ex-girlfriend, Alex Gerlach, claimed, “He was expelled from school because he imagined he killed everyone in his class. And he’s been threatening to do this for so long, and he’s been dreaming about it and everything.
After Xaver revealed the dream and his mother consented to send him to a behavioral health facility, Bremen, Indiana school authorities notified police in 2014, according to police records. Nothing else was done. In 2017, he messaged a girl there about “maybe thinking about officer suicide and taking hostage,” according to evidence provided by Michigan police.
Xaver spent nearly two months getting ready for the shootings at the nearby Avon Park Correctional Facility. Two weeks prior to the bank robberies, he resigned.
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Investigators said Xaver called 911 from the bank and told a dispatcher what he had done, then refused to leave the bank building when heavily armed police arrived. After a two-hour standoff, Xaver finally surrendered and was taken into custody where he has remained ever since.
The four SunTrust employees killed that day were Ana Piñon-Williams, Debra Cook, Marisol Lopez and Jessica Montague. The customer who died was Cynthia Watson. Police said an employee was in a back room escaped the carnage.
There were disturbing signs that Xaver, who was previously in Indiana, was fascinated by guns and killing people. A former girlfriend said after the murders that Xaver described dreaming while still in high school to hurt other students.
“He was expelled from school because he dreamed he killed everyone in his class, and he’s been threatening to do this for so long, and he’s been dreaming about it and everything,” the ex-girlfriend, Alex Gerlach, said after the murders in Florida.
School officials in Bremen, Indiana, contacted police in 2014 after Xaver reported the dream and his mother agreed to take him to a behavioral health center, according to police records. No other action was taken. Police inside Michigan released information about a 2017 incident where he messaged a girl in that state about “possibly thinking about cop suicide and taking hostage.”
Prior to the shootings, Xaver trained as a correctional officer for about two months at the nearby Avon Park Correctional Institution. He resigned two weeks before the bank murders.
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