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Sebring bank shooting: 5 dead after gunman opens fire inside SunTrust branch

Orlando Sentinel logoOrlando Sentinel 1/24/2019 Jeff Weiner
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Video by CBS News

At least five people are dead after an armed man opened fire inside a SunTrust bank in Sebring on Wednesday afternoon, prompting a standoff, authorities said.

Sebring police Chief Karl Hoglund said the victims were “senselessly murdered” by Zephen Xaver, 21, who surrendered after a Highlands County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team entered the bank.

“Today’s been a tragic day in our community,” Hoglund said. “We’ve suffered a significant loss at the hands of a senseless criminal doing a senseless crime.”

Officials have not publicly identified the victims.

Law enforcement officials said Highlands deputies and Sebring police responded to U.S. Highway 27 about 12:30 p.m. after Xaver called and told a dispatcher he had fired shots inside the bank.

Police and deputies established a perimeter but were unable to get the gunman to surrender by negotiating, authorities said.

An HCSO SWAT team later entered the bank and Xaver eventually surrendered, the agency said. Investigators discovered the bodies of five victims after retaking the bank, officials said.

“The people of Florida stand with the community here in light of this tragic circumstance,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appeared alongside Hoglund and Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “I’ve asked FDLE to provide whatever resources we can at the state level to assist with the investigation and, obviously, this is an individual that needs to face very swift and exacting justice.”

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Blackman said deputies were working alongside Sebring police to collect evidence and execute search warrants.

He and Hoglund did not take questions from reporters but promised an update on the case Thursday morning. Hoglund asked the public to keep the victims in their prayers and thoughts.

Sebring is a city east of Sarasota and south of Kissimmee.

An FBI mobile command unit arrived at the bank Wednesday evening to join the investigation.

SunTrust Chairman and CEO Bill Rogers released a statement saying the bank is deeply saddened by the tragic shooting.

"We are working with officials and dedicating ourselves to fully addressing the needs of all the individuals and families involved," Rogers said. "Our entire team mourns this terrible loss."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This is a developing story. Check back later for updates.

jeweiner@orlandosentinel.com, 407-420-5171 or @JeffWeinerOS on Twitter

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