National News

July 27, 2013

Gunman among 7 dead after Fla. apartment shootout

A gunman moving floor to floor in a South Florida apartment complex killed six people and took two others hostage before a SWAT team stormed the building and killed him early Saturday, police said.

Police got a call around 6:30 p.m. Friday that shots had been fired in the building, a five-story structure with dozens of apartments in Hialeah, a suburb a few miles north of Miami, according to Sgt. Eddie Rodriguez.  

Ester Lazcano lives two doors down from where the shooting began and said she was in the shower when she heard the first shots, then there were at least a dozen more.

“I felt the shots,” she said.

Miriam Valdes, 70, lives on the top floor — one floor above where the shooting began. She said she heard gunfire and later saw smoke and what smelled like burned plastic entering her apartment, and ran in fear to the unit across the hall.

Rodriguez said the gunman moved from floor to floor, and “eventually he barricades himself in an apartment” with two hostages.

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 the unit where he held the hostages.

Valdes said she heard about eight officers talking with him as she stayed holed up at the neighboring apartment. She said officers told 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.

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 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.

Neighbor Fabian Valdes lives across the street and said he heard shots fired, 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.

Fabian Valdes said he was in shock. “It’s something you never expect,” he said.

Miriam Valdes and other neighbors said the shooter lived in the building with his mother, but police would not confirm that information or give any other details on the gunman. As of Saturday afternoon, they had not provided information on victims or a possible motive.

But Zulima Niebles said police told her that three of her family members were among the victims. She said her sister Merly Sophia Niebles, her sister’s husband, and her sister’s daughter Priscila Perez, 16, were all shot and killed.

Zulima Niebles’ husband, Agustin Hernandez, was moving the family’s things out of the apartment building and into his car Saturday. Among them were several photos, one showing the teen girl smiling in a red graduation gown, another of his sister-in-law in a white dress and pearls.

Marcela Chavarri, director of the American Christian School, said Priscila Perez, 16, was about to enter her senior year at the school.

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

In Hialeah — a suburb of about 230,000 residents, about three-quarters of whom are Cuban or Cuban-American —  the street in the quiet, apartment-building-lined neighborhood where the shootings occurred was still blocked by tape Saturday afternoon.

The building where the standoff occurred is an aging, beige structure with an open terrace in the middle. The apartment where neighbors said the shooting started was charred, the door and ceiling immediately outside burned black.

The building across the street where the man was shot is called Casa Royal, or Royal House in English.

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