HIALEAH, Fla. — The gunman who went on a shooting rampage at his South Florida apartment building, killing six people before he was fatally shot by police, 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 the Miami suburb of Hialeah 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 all 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, 79, and his wife, Samira, 69, went running toward the smoke. Vargas opened his door and shot and killed both of them, Lt. Carl Zogby, a spokesman with the Hialeah Police Department said. The couple was originally from Colombia.
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 neighbours said was returning home from his 9-year-old son’s boxing practice.
Vargas then stormed into a third-story apartment, where he shot and killed a family of three: Cuban-born Patricio Simono, 64, Colombia-born Merly Niebles, 51, and her 17-year-old daughter, Priscilla Perez.
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 police commando team swarmed in, killing Vargas and rescuing both hostages.
On Sunday, neighbours struggled to remember anything more than cursory exchanges with Vargas. He was often seen taking his mother, who used a walker, to run errands and go to doctor appointments. Sometimes, he greeted residents and politely held open doors. Other times, he could be noticeably anti-social.
One woman recalled how she would see him wait for the elevator, only to then take the stairs if he saw someone was inside when it arrived. And neighbours never saw him with anyone other than his mother.
“He looked very alone,” said Isael Sarmiento, 42, who lived on the same floor as Vargas, across an open, grey and red concrete terrace. “I saw it in his face sometimes, like he was someone who had spent many years alone.”
No one knew what he did for a living, though an email address listed for Vargas in public records suggested he had an interest in design.
Nearly every morning, Vargas would get dressed in gym shorts and a tank top and drive to an L.A. Fitness gym, water bottle in hand, neighbours said.
“He looked like an athlete,” said Consuela Fernandez.
Vargas didn’t talk much, but occasionally he would share hints of the frustrations he described taking out at the gym.
“He said he’d rather be by himself, that women were no good,” Bagos said.
Lately, Vargas seemed to keep even more to himself. When Bagos tried saying hello, Vargas would turn and walk in the other direction.
“I thought he was going through problems and I kept away from him,” he said.
Police said Vargas had no known criminal history, and they’d never responded any calls from the home. His past, they said, was “unremarkable.”
“Nobody seems to know why he acted the way he acted,” Zogby said.