A man accused of killing five people when he opened fire at a Florida bank Wednesday had a “fascination with death” and had talked about killing before, an ex-girlfriend said.
Zephen Xaver, 21, started the rampage at about 12:30 p.m. at SunTrust Bank in Sebring before calling 911 on himself and taking hostages, causing law enforcement to descend on the building, the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office said. A picture of the alleged shooter began to emerge later Wednesday.
Alex Gerlach told The Washington Post she used to date Xaver intermittently for about three years. She told the newspaper they met at a psychiatric hospital in 2013 in Plymouth, Ind. and he had talked about killing before.
She provided a photo of herself with Xaver to WSBT-TV that appeared to show Xaver with a group of girls on a football field.
“Since the time we met he had this fascination with death,” Gerlach told The Washington Post. “It got worse as we broke up. We got back together on and off for a while. Then I decided it was too much for my mental health.”
Gerlach said Xaver told her he had purchased a gun last week but thought nothing of it because he had always liked guns. She said she believes he purchased a handgun, according to The Washington Post.
Another friend, who spoke to The Washington Post on condition of anonymity, said Xaver told her he wanted to join the military “because he wanted to kill people.” The friend said Xaver had messaged her late Tuesday night and she now fears he was reaching out for help. The friends told the newspaper they’d been telling Xaver to get help for years.
“I’m just sad that he didn’t get the help he needed because this could have been prevented,” the unidentified friend said. “I’m even more upset that he messaged me and I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want to speak to him out of respect for my best friend. Now I wish I would have. I feel like I could have said something if I would have known. But I know you never truly know what someone really has planned.”
Josh Xaver, who said he is the suspect’s father, told CNN his son moved to Florida about a year ago. He told the network he was “heartbroken” for the shooting victims and said his son had “troubles,” though he failed to elaborate on what those troubles were.
In November, Zephen Xaver was hired as a prison guard for the Florida Department of Corrections, but he resigned in early January. A corrections official told The Washington Post that Xaver had “no discipline” issues during his brief tenure.
Investigators were still trying to determine a motive for the killings. Police said it was unclear whether the attack began as a robbery. The victims were not immediately identified.
Gov. Ron DeSantis traveled to Sebring after the shooting and said the Florida Department of Law Enforcement would assist Sebring police and the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office.
“Obviously, this is an individual who needs to face very swift and exacting justice,” DeSantis said.
Fox News’ Elizabeth Zwirz and the Associated Press contributed to this report.