National AP News | WCTV Eyewitness News: Tallahassee, Thomasville, Valdosta

Neighbors Describe Different Sides Of Hialeah Gunman

By: Assoctiated Press Email
By: Assoctiated Press Email
This photo released by the Hialeah Police Department shows Pedro Vargas. Vargas went on a shooting rampage throughout his apartment building, killing six people before being shot to death by police, Saturday July 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Hialeah Police Department)

This photo released by the Hialeah Police Department shows Pedro Vargas. Vargas went on a shooting rampage throughout his apartment building, killing six people before being shot to death by police, Saturday July 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Hialeah Police Department)

Associated Press Release

HIALEAH, Fla. (AP) -- The gunman who went on a shooting rampage at a South Florida apartment complex was described as a quiet man who took his mother to doctor appointments, yet also someone who was known for getting into fights and yelling at his mom.

The conflicting portrayals of Pedro Vargas, 42, emerged as police tried to piece together why he set ablaze the apartment he lived in with his mother and then killed six people before police fatally shot him.

As the eight-hour standoff unfolded, horrified residents hunkered down in their homes, at times so close to the action that they could feel the gunfire or hear negotiations between the gunman and police, authorities and witnesses said Saturday.

As the rampaged winded down, Vargas held two people hostage at gunpoint for up to three hours in their apartment until a SWAT team entered and killed him, police said. The hostages were not hurt.

"Nobody seems to know why he acted the way he acted," said Lt. Carl Zogby, a spokesman with the Hialeah Police Department.

Detectives were investigating whether Vargas had any ongoing disputes with the building manager, as some residents believed. His mother was not home at the time of the shootings.

"He was a good son," said Ester Lazcano, who lived on the same floor as Vargas and his mother. "He'd take her in the morning to run errands" and to doctor appointments.

Lazcano said she was in the shower when she heard the first shots, and then there were at least a dozen more. "I felt the shots," she said.

Miriam Valdes, 70, was in a friend's apartment two doors down. She said she heard officers trying to convince Vargas to surrender.

She said the gunman first asked for his girlfriend and then his mother but refused to cooperate.

Valdes said Vargas was also known as a difficult person who sometimes got into fights and yelled at his mother.

"He was a very abusive person," she said. "He didn't have any friends there."

Police were called to the aging, five-story apartment building in Hialeah, a working class suburb a few miles northwest of downtown Miami, on Friday at 6:30 p.m. The first calls reported a fire, but when firefighters arrived, they heard shots and notified police, Zogby said.

Vargas, who has no known criminal record, set a combustible liquid on fire in his fourth-floor apartment. Building manager Italo Pisciotti, 79, and his wife, Camira Pisciotti, 69, saw smoke and ran to the unit, Zogby said. When they arrived, Vargas opened the door and fired, killing both.

Vargas then went back into his burning apartment and fired 10 to 20 shots from a 9mm pistol into the street. One of the bullets struck 33-year-old Carlos Javier Gavilanes, who was parking his car after returning home from work. Zogby said his body was found next to his vehicle.

The gunman then kicked his way into a third-floor apartment, where he shot to death Patricio Simono, 54; his wife Merly Niebles, 51; and their 17-year-old daughter. Family members said Simono worked at a car wash and Niebles cleaned hotel rooms. Their daughter wanted to be a nurse.

Agustin Hernandez, Niebles' brother-in-law, loaded several old pictures and other items from his relative's apartment in a grocery cart and into his car. One showed his teenage niece smiling in a red graduation gown. Another pictured his sister-in-law posing in a white dress and pearls.

A binder also from the apartment had pop artist Justin Beiber's name on the spine, presumably belonging to the teenage girl, who family members identified as Priscilla Perez.

Marcela Chavarri, director of the American Christian School, said the Perez was about to enter her senior year.

"She was a lovely girl," Chavarri said through tears. "She was always happy and helping her classmates."

All six people were killed in a short time span, Zogby said, and it's possible they were all dead by the time police arrived.

Officers and Vargas then engaged in an hours-long shootout and chase, with police following the gunman from one floor to the next.

"He kept running from us as he fired at us and we fired at him," Zogby said.

Several hours into the ordeal, Vargas forced his way into a fifth-story unit and held two people captive. Sgt. Eddie Rodriguez said negotiators and a SWAT team tried talking with him from the other side of the door.

Rodriguez said the talks eventually "just fell apart." Officers stormed the building, fatally shooting the gunman in an exchange of gunfire. Zogby said Vargas still had several rounds of ammunition when he was killed.

"He was ready to fight," Zogby said.


Associated Press Release

HIALEAH, Fla. (AP) -- A gunman holding hostages inside a South Florida apartment complex killed six people before being shot to death by a SWAT team that stormed the building early Saturday following an hours-long standoff, police said.

Sgt. Eddie Rodriguez told The Associated Press that police got a call around 6:30 p.m. Friday that shots had been fired in a building with dozens of apartments in Hialeah, just a few miles north of Miami.

Rodriguez said that when police arrived, they discovered an active shooter situation: "He's inside the building, moving from floor to floor. Eventually he barricades himself in an apartment."

A crisis team was able to briefly establish communication with the man. Rodriguez said negotiators and a SWAT team tried talking with him from the other side of the door of an apartment unit where he was holding two hostages.

But Rodriguez said the talks eventually "just fell apart." Officers stormed the building, fatally shooting the gunman in an exchange of gunfire.

"They made the decision to go in there and save and rescue the hostages," Rodriguez said. Both hostages survived. Rodriguez said he didn't have any information on how long negotiations lasted.

He said police discovered two people, a male and female, shot to death in the hallway in front of one unit. Three more, a male and two females, were found shot and killed in another apartment on a different floor. Another man who was walking his children into an apartment across the street also was killed. Rodriguez said it wasn't immediately clear whether the gunman took aim at him from an upper-level balcony or if he was hit by a stray bullet.

"From up there, he was able to shoot at people across the street, catching this one man who was just walking into his apartment," Rodriguez said.

Fabian Valdes, who lives across the street, said he heard shots fired and then looked out his window and saw a man lying on the floor, outside the front lobby. He was on his back and had his arms and legs outstretched.

Valdes said he was in shock. "It's something you never expect," he said.

In the large Miami suburb of Hialeah, the entrance to the quiet neighborhood lined with apartment buildings was blocked off early Saturday.

The standoff occurred in an aging beige five-story building with an open terrace in the middle.

Miriam Valdes, 70, said she lives on the top floor - one floor above where the shooting began. She said she heard gunfire and later saw smoke entering her apartment.

She described running in fear to the unit across the hall, where she stayed holed up as officers negotiated with the gunman.

From the apartment, Valdes said she could hear about eight officers talking with the gunman.

She said she heard the officers tell him to "let these people out."

"We're going to help you," she said they told him.

She said the gunman first asked for his girlfriend and then his mother but refused to cooperate.

Ester Lazcano said she lives two doors down from where the shooting began and was in the shower when she heard the first shots. Then there were many more.

"I felt the shots," she said.

Neighbors said the gunman lived in the building, but police wouldn't confirm that information. Rodriguez said police were still investigating the motive and identifying the gunman and victims.

"Investigators are talking with families of the victims, neighbors, people that were present when all this began," he said. "That way we can start to piece together this huge puzzle that we're working with."

---

Associated Press writer Suzette Laboy contributed to this report.


Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
powered by Disqus
WCTV 1801 Halstead Blvd. Tallahassee, FL 32309
Gray Television, Inc. - Copyright © 2002-2014 - Designed by Gray Digital Media - Powered by Clickability 217229361