Police: Gunman in Fla. standoff lived in building

Miami-Dade morgue workers carry out a body out at the scene of a fatal shooting early Saturday in Hialeah, Fla.

A gunman took two hostages and killed six people in an apartment complex in South Florida before he was shot dead by a SWAT team.

HIALEAH, Fla. — A man living with his mother in a South Florida apartment complex set their unit on fire and went on a shooting rampage throughout the building, killing six people before being shot to death by police. As the eight-hour standoff unfolded, horrified residents hunkered down in their homes, at times so close to the action they could feel the gunfire or hear negotiations between the gunman and police, authorities and witnesses said Saturday.

In the final hours, Pedro Vargas, 42, 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.

"The crime scene is the whole building," said Lt. Carl Zogby, a spokesman with the Hialeah Police Department.

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

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.

Florida apartment shooting: A woman talks on the phone near the scene of the shooting.AP Photo: El Nuevo Herald: Gaston DeCardenas

A woman talks on the phone outside an apartment building at the scene of Saturday's fatal shooting in Hialeah.

After gunning down the building managers, Vargas went back into his burning apartment and fired 10 to 20 shots from a 9 mm 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.

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 hourslong 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.

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

"Pedro, let these people out," Valdes said officers told him. "We're going to help you."

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.

Zogby said Vargas still had several rounds of ammunition when he was killed.

The hostages, identified as Zoeb and Sarrida Nek, were shaken up but not hurt, he said.

Neighbors said the shooter lived in the building with his mother.

Florida apartment shooting: A police line near the location of the shootingAP Photo: The Miami Herald: Joey Flechas

Police cars line a street where seven were killed at an apartment building in Hialeah early Saturday.

"He was a good son," Lazcano said. "He'd take her in the morning to run errands" and took her to doctor appointments.

But Valdes said he was 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."

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 teen daughter Priscila Perez 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 smiling in a red graduation gown, another of his sister-in-law in a white dress and pearls.

Hernandez said his sister-in-law's husband was a friend of the building manager.

Marcela Chavarri, director of the American Christian School, said Priscila Perez 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 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.

Florida apartment shooting: The apartment complex where the fatal shooting took placeAP Photo: Alan Diaz

The apartment building where the fatal shooting took place in Hialeah

Associated Press writer Suzette Laboy contributed to this report.

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