Pedro Vargas killed six neighbors in a shooting rampage over the weekend in South Florida apartment complex and took two others hostage before a SWAT team stormed the building and killed him early Saturday, police said.
“It was a very difficult decision,” Hialeah Police Chief Sergio Velazquez told El Nuevo Herald/Miami Herald on Sunday, “because I not only have the lives of the two hostages that we want to rescue, but I have in my hands the lives of the six police officers that I’m sending in to confront this man.”
Vargas was a lonely man who spoke about having pent up anger, those who knew him said Sunday.
He lived on the fourth floor of a barren, concrete apartment complex in the Miami suburb of Hialeah with his elderly mother. He rarely spoke with others there, and confided to a man who worked out at the same gym that he liked to work out his anger by lifting weights and trying to get big. He had no criminal record.
Five of the victims lived in his suburban Miami apartment complex, and one lived across the street. Here's a look at them.
ITALO AND SAMIRA PISCIOTTI
The Pisciottis were killed first. The couple — Italo, 79, and Samira, 69 — managed the aging, five-story, beige building and lived in apartment 316, one floor below. They came to Vargas' door Friday night after he set a combustible liquid on fire in his unit, police said. When they arrived, Vargas opened the door and fired at them.
Some residents believed Vargas had an ongoing dispute with the Pisciottis, and police said they're looking into the possibility. Tenants described the couple, originally from Colombia, as being very strict about building regulations, even objecting when children played in an open terrace in the middle of the complex.
Samira Pisciotti was often seen taking care of her young granddaughter, taking her out to go on walks. Pisciottis' daughter also lived in the building.
"She was a good grandmother," tenant Alex Cruz said. "And a good mother."
On Sunday, there was a note taped outside the daughter's door, requesting privacy.
"My children are inside and are already scared," the note read. "I thank everyone for your prayers and ask that you pray for all the families."
Two white candles were lit alongside two red roses outside the doorstep.
CARLOS JAVIER GAVILANES
After shooting the Pisciottis, Vargas went back into the burning apartment and fired 10-20 shots from the balcony into the street. One of them hit Gavilanes, 33, as neighbors said he was returning home from his 9-year-old son's boxing practice.
After he was shot, Gavilanes yelled at his son to run and managed to make it inside his building, where he then collapsed as his son screamed in horror, witnesses said.
Neighbors described Gavilanes as a doting father, often seen playing with his children outside and recently celebrating his 2-year-old daughter's birthday.
"He was very family oriented," said Maria Herrara, 26, who lived next door to Gavilanes. "Every time you saw him it was with his wife and children."
Soon after shooting Gavilanes, Vargas moved to a third-floor apartment and forced his way in. Simono lived there with his long-time girlfriend and her daughter. Family members said Simono was the first one shot.
Simono was originally from Cuba, said Zulima Niebles, his girlfriend's sister. He worked at a car wash and also held a part-time job in the building where they lived, helping with repairs.
"He was very hard working," Zulima Niebles said.
She described him as a simple man who cared greatly for his girlfriend's teenage daughter.
"He loved her very much," she said.
Vargas moved through the family's apartment. Merly Niebles and her daughter were hiding in the bathroom, the door shut, Zulima Niebles said.
The gunman fired through the door, killing both. Their bodies were found embraced, she said.
Merly Niebles cleaned guest rooms at a Howard Johnson hotel. She was born in Colombia and came to the U.S. with her mother and sisters when she was about 30.
Zulima Niebles described her sister as a religious woman who liked to spend time with her relatives when she wasn't working.
"I miss her a lot," Zulima Niebles said Saturday as she went to pick up some of her sister's belongings. "All three of them."
Perez was about to enter her senior year at the American Christian School, a private school in Hialeah. She aspired to become a neonatal nurse, relatives said.
Earlier that evening, Perez had been on the phone with one of her aunts. She talked about how she'd just done her hair and was at home with her mother, Zulima Niebles said.
It was a typical Friday evening for the 17-year-old girl, who her aunt described as studious and knowledgeable about computers and electronics.
At school, she was known as being friendly and helpful to her classmates. Friends left candles, teddy bears and a poster for her outside the building after the shooting
"We will always love you!," one message read. "May your beautiful spirit always be looking over us."
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.