Shooter Set $10,000 on Fire in Hialeah Shooting Rampage
By Steve Litz, Justin Finch, Claudia DoCampo and Alexandra Leon
First published on July 26, 2013 on NBCMiami.com
Officials identified the shooter involved in a hostage situation at a Hialeah apartment complex as 42-year-old Pedro Vargas at a press conference Saturday.
SWAT officers shot and killed Vargas after he killed six people in an apartment building in Hialeah, just a few miles north of Miami, ending an hours-long standoff early Saturday, Hialeah Police said.
Officials identified the victims as Italo Pisciotti, 79, Camira Pisciotti, 69, Carlos Javier Gavilanes, 33, Patricio Simono, 64, Merly S. Niebles, 51, and a 17-year-old female.
"I'm torn apart by all this," Hialeah mayor Carlos Hernandez said Saturday.
Hialeah police spokesman Sgt. Eddie Rodriguez told NBC News that two people were rescued alive from an apartment building where they were being held hostage.
“This is one of the worst shootings we’ve probably had ever in Hialeah," police spokesman Carl Zogby said.
Fire rescue crews were first called to the scene at about 6:30 p.m. after Vargas lit apartment 408 where he lived at 1485 West 46th Street on fire with some sort of combustible liquid, Zogby said Saturday.
Officials confirmed Vargas started the fire by burning $10,000 cash and his mother was in the apartment complex at the time of the fire. The mother was able to get out to safety, but it is not clear how, according to authorities.
Building managers Italo Pisciotti and Camira Pisciotti ran towards the apartment when they noticed smoke was coming out of it and Vargas came out the door, shooting and killing both of them at the scene, Zogby said.
Vargas (pictured right) then ran back into the burning apartment, walked out onto his balcony and fired 10 to 20 shots into the street, killing Gavilanes who was at the apartment building across the street, according to Zogby. He said Gavilanes, a father, had just arrived home from work and was standing in the parking lot next to his car when he was killed.
Vargas then ran out of the apartment building, firing shots at random in an irrational fashion, Zogby said. Police officers had already arrived on scene and fired at him as he fired back in the hallway.
He then entered another apartment where he took two hostages at gunpoint, Zogby said. Negotiators were talking with Vargas, and police sent a robot into the scene, authorities said.
But after police discovered that six people were dead, and that the man had two hostages in an apartment, the SWAT unit decided there was no more time to negotiate, Zogby said.
About eight hours after the situation began, a SWAT team entered the apartment, killing Vargas and saving the two hostages.
"The end result: seven people have lost their lives in this incident, six innocent victims and the one shooter," Zogby said. "Now starts the investigation, how and why this happened.”
Zogby said the hostages, identified as Zoeb Nek and Sarrida Nek, were not hurt, and he did not believe that any officers were injured. He said Vargas still had several rounds of live ammunition left when police intervened. Officials said he used a 9mm pistol during the rampage.
"Had we not cornered him and then entered and engaged him, this could have been a much greater tragedy," Zogby said.
Hialeah Police told NBC News that Vargas bought his handgun legally and had a concealed weapons permit.
Shamira Pisciotti said she found her parents, Italo and Samira Pisciotti, after hearing the shots. She ran over to them and found her mother dead and her father clinging to life.
"I guess there was an altercation and the person opened fire on both of them. My mom was dead the moment that she was shot and my dad still had a pulse when I got to him," Shamira Pisciotti said.
He died soon after, she said.
Merly Niebles and husband Patricio Simono, along with Niebles' daughter, were found in one of the apartments, Hialeah police spokesman Sgt. Eddie Rodriguez told NBC News.
Agustin Hernandez and Alberto Martinez confirmed Niebles' daughter's name was Priscilla Perez (pictured below). Hernandez and Martinez, who are married to Niebles' sisters, said Patricio was a handyman at the apartment complex and worked with the building managers.
American Christian School principal Sergio Chavarri said Perez was a student at his school and would have gone into 11th grade this year. Perez, who wanted to be a nurse, never missed one day of class in the four years that she attended the school which takes pre-K through high school students, he said.
"She was a very nice person," Chavarri said. "We can't believe that such a nice person should be, you know, something like that."
Shamira Pisciotti said she believed that there was a complaint about the shooter and that he confronted her parents about it, and that he then shot them.
She said she heard about 15 to 20 gunshots. Several other witnesses said they heard between 10 and 12 shots.
Dozens of people were evacuated from their homes, and a couple of streets in the area were shut down.
Claribel Dominguez said she believes she was one of the last people to see her friend Samina Pisciotti alive. She shared that news with Pisciotti's grieving family.
“But I was just with her mom before it happened, like 15 or 20 minutes ago before it happened we were at Kmart,” Dominguez said.
She said that she heard several shots from inside the store, a few blocks away from the scene.
She got a call from Shamira Pisciotti, who told her that her parents had been shot and killed.
"And I still don't believe it," Dominguez said.
Police were investigating the motive behind the killings and were still identifying those who were killed, according to NBC News.