Sunday, May 20, 2018
Public safety

Fla. apartment gunman described as lonely, angry

HIALEAH — The gunman who went on a shooting rampage at his South Florida apartment building, killing six people, was a lonely man who spoke about having pent-up anger, those who knew him said Sunday.

Pedro Vargas, 42, lived on the fourth floor of a barren, concrete apartment complex in Hialeah, which is northwest of Miami, 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'd just say this was the only thing that would keep him normal, pulling out all the anger in the gym," Jorge Bagos told the Associated Press. Bagos said the gunman expressed frustration over bad experiences with women and losing his hair from using steroids.

On Friday night, Vargas set a combustible liquid on fire in his apartment, sending the unit into flames, police said. Building manager Italo Pisciotti and his wife went running toward the smoke. As the couple arrived at the front door, Vargas' mother, Esperanza Patterson, 83, screamed. Vargas opened his door and shot and killed the couple, said Lt. Carl Zogby, a spokesman for Hialeah police.

Vargas fired about 20 times, police said, shaking nearby apartments. The Pisciottis fell outside the door. Patterson ran outside as smoke billowed from the apartment and draped herself over the bodies, said a witness who did not want to be identified.

Vargas then went back into his apartment and began firing from his balcony. One of the shots struck and killed Carlos Javier Gavilanes, 33, who neighbors said was returning home from his son's boxing practice. Vargas then stormed into a third-story apartment, where he shot and killed a family of three: Patricio Simono, 64, Merly Niebles, 51, and her 17-year-old daughter.

For eight hours, police followed and exchanged gunfire with Vargas throughout the five-story apartment complex as terrified residents took cover in bathrooms and huddled with relatives, sometimes so close to the gunfire they could feel the shots.

In the final hours, Vargas took two people captive in a fifth-story unit. Police attempted to negotiate with him, but the talks fell apart and a SWAT team swarmed in, killing Vargas and rescuing both hostages. On Sunday, Hialeah detectives continued to talk to Vargas' mother, looking for clues on what sparked her son's rampage. Police said Vargas had no known criminal history, and they'd never responded any calls from the home. His past, they said, was "unremarkable."

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