MIAMI (Reuters) – A tenant went on a shooting rampage at a Florida apartment building, killing six people before a SWAT team killed him and rescued two neighbours he was holding hostage yesterday, police said.
The hostages were unharmed, police in the Miami suburb of Hialeah said.
“We don’t have a clear motive,” said Hialeah police spokesman Carl Zogby. “This was an irrational act and many times there is no rational explanation.”
Neighbours said the gunman may have been facing eviction, but police were still investigating.
The melee began on Friday evening when the gunman, identified as Pedro Vargas, 42, set fire to the apartment he shared with his mother, police said.
The building managers, 78-year-old Italo Pisciotti and Camira Pisciotti, 68, saw smoke pouring out and ran to the apartment, Zogby said.
“He came out of the door and shot both of them several times, killing them right at the scene,” he said.
Vargas went back inside his burning apartment, walked out on the balcony and fired 10 to 20 shots into the street, Zogby said. A man who lived across the street was killed as he walked from a parking lot toward his home. Vargas also shot at emergency crews and police, preventing them from giving immediate aid to the victims, police said.
The gunman then went to a third-floor apartment, kicked down the door and shot dead a couple and their 17-year-old daughter, Zogby said.
Vargas then ran through the building, firing erratically and exchanging gunfire with police as they arrived and tried to engage him. He ran to the fifth floor, where he took two people hostage and barricaded himself inside their apartment, police said.
Negotiators made contact with him during the night but the talks fell apart and the SWAT team swarmed in about 2 am, police said. Vargas had plenty of ammunition left and was firing and “ready to fight” when police killed him, Zogby said.
“All this while, officers are trying to save the hostages, grab them, pull them out of the apartment while this gun battle was going on,” he said.
Police initially said Vargas’ mother collapsed and was taken to a hospital during the chaos, but later said she had been away visiting relatives during the shootout.
The apartment complex in the blue-collar, mostly Hispanic community housed about 90 families.
More than a hundred police officers from Hialeah and surrounding communities responded to the situation. Some apartment residents were in tears as the investigation continued yesterday. Others stood on balconies and in hallways looking bewildered.
Police said Vargas was described by neighbours as a quiet man and had no criminal history.
The ceiling and outside wall of his apartment were charred from the fire and blood from the slain building managers stained the door. Three small red flowers had been placed nearby. Down the hall were more flowers and a heart-shaped glass ashtray with three red candles burning in it.