Florida Gov. Rick Scott thanked members of the Hialeah Police Department and SWAT team Wednesday for their efforts in rescuing the hostages of a gunman who killed six people before he was shot and killed by officers last week.
Scott met with officers to congratulate them on their rescue efforts during the hours-long standoff, thanking them for their service during a ceremony at Hialeah Police headquarters.
"Your heart goes out to families, the individuals that were impacted, but also I just wanted to thank you for what you did, it can't be easy to put your lives at risk," Scott told the officers. "If it wasn't for individuals like you, we wouldn't have the safety we have."
The SWAT team presented Scott with one of their patches. Mayor Carlos Hernandez said Scott has been in contact with him since the hostage situation began and has been receiving updates.
"Many of us that have been in law enforcement or are in law enforcement have never seen anything like this," Hernandez said of the shooting and hostage situation.
Police say Pedro Vargas, 42, shot and killed six people and held two others hostage, and opened fire on police officers before he was killed by SWAT team members during a violent standoff Friday at an apartment building in the 1400 block of West 46th Street.
Vargas had set $10,000 in cash on fire before the shooting spree and standoff that lasted until early Saturday, police said.
Italo Pisciotti, 79, and Samira Pisciotti, 69, the husband and wife who managed the building where Vargas lived with his 83-year-old mother for the last 12 years, were killed, as were neighbor 17-year-old Priscilla Perez, her mother Merly Niebles and stepfather Patricio Simono, and Carlos Gavilanes, who was killed across the street.
Police haven't determined a motive in the shootings.
SWAT team member Fernando Montalvo spoke about the night of the shootings.
"That was our main concern, the safety of the hostages," said Montalvo.
Montalvo was one of six officers who rescued Sarrida and Zoeb Nek, and shot and killed Vargas while dodging his bullets at the same time.
"Oh, we were elated, for us, that was the best outcome we could possibly have, that the hostages were safe, absolutely," Montalvo said.
He added that the hostages were grateful.
"Oh they were super grateful. They were very happy, congratulating us, wanting to meet us," Montalvo said.
Meanwhile, family members paid their final respects to Gavilanes at a Wednesday morning funeral at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Hialeah.
His uncle, Nivardo Diaz, remembered Gavilanes as “totally devoted” to his family.
“He was unbelievable,” said Diaz, who recalled weekend and holiday barbecues together. “He loved being with his family. He was always the life of the party and obviously we’re going to miss that about him.”
Family members carried Gavilanes’ silver casket up steps and into the church. Diaz said his nephew is survived by an eight-year-old son and two-year-old daughter.
The viewing for Perez will take place at 5 p.m. at San Jose Funeral home at 250 East 4th Avenue.
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