5 fatally shot inside Florida bank, suspect arrested

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Law enforcement officers stand near a Florida Department of Law Enforcement vehicle that is parked in front of SunTrust Bank branch on Jan. 23, 2019, in Sebring, Florida, where authorities say five people were shot and killed. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
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Law enforcement officials take cover outside a SunTrust Bank branch on Jan. 23, 2019, in Sebring, Florida. Authorities say they've arrested a man who fired shots inside the Florida bank. (The News Sun via AP)
Updated 24 January 2019
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5 fatally shot inside Florida bank, suspect arrested

  • Authorities identified the suspect as 21-year-old Zephen Xaver, who was arrested at the SunTrust branch
  • Investigators did not offer any potential motive, and a police spokesman said he did not know if the attack began as a robbery

SEBRING, Florida: A gunman opened fire inside a Florida bank Wednesday, killing five people before surrendering to a SWAT team, police said.
The shooter called police to report that he had fired shots inside the bank in Sebring, about 80 miles (129 kilometers) southeast of Tampa. Negotiations failed to persuade the barricaded man to leave the building. The SWAT team then entered the bank, and the gunman eventually gave up, police said.
“Today’s been a tragic day in our community,” Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund told a news conference. “We’ve suffered significant loss at the hands of a senseless criminal doing a senseless crime.”
Authorities identified the suspect as 21-year-old Zephen Xaver, who was arrested at the SunTrust branch, Hoglund said.
Xaver briefly was an online student of Salt Lake City-based Stevens-Henager College. A spokeswoman for the college, Sherrie Martin, confirmed that Xaver was enrolled from September 2018 until December, when he withdrew. She said his residence was listed as Sebring.
Investigators did not offer any potential motive, and a police spokesman said he did not know if the attack began as a robbery. The dead were not immediately identified.
Gov. Ron DeSantis was in the region for an infrastructure tour and traveled to Sebring after the shooting. He 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 of the suspect.
An FBI mobile command unit arrived at the bank Wednesday evening to join the investigation.
Late Wednesday, police investigators still swarmed the bank, which sits between a hotel and a hair salon located in a business district of US 27. The four-lane highway passes through farming communities and small towns as it connects South Florida and central Florida.
Meanwhile, police had wrapped up work at Xaver’s nicely maintained, pre-fabricated home about 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) from the bank.
John Larose, who lives next door to Xaver’s home, said Xaver and his mother had moved in several months ago. Xaver kept to himself, but Larose said he could hear Xaver playing and yelling at video games in the middle of the night.
SunTrust Chairman and CEO Bill Rogers released a statement saying the bank was “working with officials and dedicating ourselves to fully addressing the needs of all the individuals and families involved.”
The bank’s “entire team mourns this terrible loss,” he said.
Sebring is a small, rural city northwest of Lake Okeechobee. The Sebring International Raceway hosts an annual WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race.


Unspeakable grief: A husband, wife and three children wiped out in Sri Lanka

Updated 53 min 42 sec ago
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Unspeakable grief: A husband, wife and three children wiped out in Sri Lanka

  • The Gomez family gather for funeral of a husband and wife and their three sons
  • They were brutally killed as they attended Easter Sunday Mass at Colombo’s St. Joseph’s Shrine

COLOMBO: The dark wooden coffins, sitting side by side, attested to one family’s unspeakable grief.
The Gomez family gathered Tuesday to say a final farewell to five loved ones — a son, a daughter-in-law and three young grandsons — brutally killed as they attended Easter Sunday Mass at Colombo’s St. Joseph’s Shrine.
“All family, all generation, is lost,” said Joseph Gomez, the family patriarch, as tears welled in his eyes. Dozens of family members and neighbors were gathered in his simple home, where the sound of hymns sung by mourners gently wafted in the background and candles flickered beside three coffins. The bodies of two grandsons have yet to be recovered.
Across Sri Lanka, Tuesday was a national day of mourning as families began to lay to rest the more than 320 victims of the bomb blasts that struck a half-dozen churches and hotels in the island nation.
For the Gomez family, the loss was unfathomable: A 33-year-old son, Berlington Joseph, the young man’s 31-year-old wife Chandrika Arumugam, and their three boys, 9-year-old Bevon, 6-year-old Clavon and baby Avon, who would have turned 1 next week. A funeral card with a photo of the family clutched in his hands, the elder Gomez wailed: “I can’t bear this on me, I can’t bear this.”
“My eldest son, my eldest son,” he sobbed as he laid bouquets of red roses and brightly colored daisies on the largest coffin. Next to it was a tiny coffin, a photo of little Avon tucked into a wooden frame nearby.
The coffins, draped with long white tassels, were then carried to a Colombo cemetery and lowered into side-by-side graves.
At St. Joseph’s Shrine, dozens of mourners gathered outside, lighting candles and praying in unison for the victims of Sunday’s blasts as heavily armed soldiers stood guard.
At St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, a funeral service was held Tuesday for victims killed there as they worshipped, led by Cardinal Malcom Ranjith. The church was heavily guarded by hundreds of army, air force and police troops, and soldiers were deployed every 15 feet along the streets of the city some 20 miles north of Colombo.
Throughout the country, people observed a three-minute silence for the victims of the near-simultaneous attacks at three churches and three luxury hotels, and three other related blasts, the deadliest violence to strike Sri Lanka in a decade.
The Sri Lankan government has blamed the attack on National Towheed Jamaar, a little-known local extremist group, and on Tuesday, the Daesh group also claimed responsibility, though it provided no proof it was involved and has made unsubstantiated claims in the past.