Sebring, FL – The ex-girlfriend of the man who executed five women at a SunTrust bank on Wednesday said she tried warning people in the past that Zephen Xaver wanted to commit murder, but nobody listened.
Alex Gerlach told WSBT that she dated the now 21-year-old gunman for two years, and kept in touch with him after he moved from Indiana to Florida a few months ago.
“He got kicked out of school for having a dream that he killed everybody in his class, and he’s been threatening this for so long, and he’s been having dreams about it and everything,” Gerlach said. “Every single person I’ve told has not taken it seriously, and it’s very unfortunate that it had to come to this.”
She said that Xaver told her he bought a gun last week, and sent her a picture of it, The Washington Post reported.
On Wednesday, Xaver walked into the SunTrust Bank on US-7 South in Sebring and murdered five women, execution style.
Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund told reporters at a press conference on Thursday that they didn’t think the gunman had ever had any intention of robbing the bank.
Chief Hoglund said that Xaver entered the bank at about 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 23 and forced everyone inside – five women – to lie down on the lobby floor.
Then he shot them in the back of the head.
Afterwards, Xaver called 911 and “told dispatchers that he’d killed everyone in the bank,” the chief said.
“I have shot five people,” the gunman reportedly said.
An affidavit said that all of the victims were found face-down with gunshot wounds to the backs of their heads, The Washington Post reported.
When police arrived, Xaver refused to surrender and would not allow medical personnel to access or attend the victims.
The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office SWAT Team set up communications and negotiated with the gunman for an hour but got nowhere.
That’s when Chief Hoglund ordered the SWAT team to breach the doors of the bank.
Initially, police tried to pull open the doors of the bank with an armored vehicle, but they only succeeded in yanking the handles off of the doors.
So they used the armored vehicle to crash through the glass doors of the bank, and found Xaver in a back office.
He surrendered to the SWAT team, The Washington Post reported.
All of the victims were dead when police finally gained entrance to the bank.
Xaver was arrested and charged with five counts of premeditated murder, The Washington Post reported.
Chief Hoglund identified customer Cynthia Watson and bank employee Marisol Lopez as two of the victims, The Washington Post reported.
However, the families of the other three victims have asked that their names be withheld.
The Washington Post noted that this was the first high-profile usage of a new victim-shielding law that was passed to protect victims and their families in the wake of a tragedy.
The law was proposed and passed after 17 students and staff were murdered on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Authorities have said they do not know a motive for the massacre in Sebring and it appeared to be random.
But Xaver’s ex-girlfriend told WSBT that he regularly talked about wanting to hurt people and wanting people to die.
"I never understood where it started," Gerlach said. "For some reason [he] always hated people and wanted everyone to die. He got kicked out of school for having a dream that he killed everybody in his class."
She said she’d tried to warn people about Xaver in the past, and but that she hadn’t been taken seriously.
“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.”
Records showed that Xaver attended high school in two different Indiana districts, but did not graduate from either.
Superintendent Jim White of Bremen Public Schools in Indiana confirmed that Xaver had been a student in the district for two years, The Washington Post reported.
However, he could not disclose any other details of Xaver’s time there because of privacy laws.
It does not appear that the gunman had a criminal record of any kind.
In fact, he tried to be a correctional officer, according to The Washington Post.
He applied for, and was hired by, the Florida Department of Corrections on Nov. 2, 2018.
He began as a trainee at the Avon Park Correctional Institution but resigned on Jan. 9.
There were no disciplinary issues on his record, The Washington Post reported.
He appeared in court on Jan. 24 where was ordered held without bond and given a public defender.