Tenants Recovering After Massacre in Hialeah Apartment Building

Neighbors were recovering from water damage to their apartments after firefighters put out the blaze that preceded the shooting.

The swish of the brooms used to push water out of soaked apartments was one of few sounds heard Sunday in the Todel apartment building in Hialeah.

Remnants of Friday's tragic shooting rampage that also involved a fire still littered the building at 1485 West 46th Street as residents somberly cleaned the mess.

The plumbing in one apartment's bathroom was exposed from a collapsed ceiling caused by the weight of the water used to put out the flames. Several buckets were placed throughout the building to catch water that was still dripping from the ceiling.

Police officers had yet to find a motive in Friday's shooting rampage at a Hialeah apartment complex that left seven people dead, including the gunman.

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"People are still in shock," neighbor Carlos Alvarez said. "You don't realize what happened until a couple of days later you see a family missing."

Alvarez hid in a closet with his parents and two-year-old daughter during the shooting, that involved an eight-hour standoff with police officers as the gunman held two tenants hostage.

As they tried to make sense of the massacre, neighbors provided conflicting portrayals of gunman Pedro Vargas, 42. He was described as a quiet man who took his mother to doctor appointments, yet also someone who was known for getting into fights and yelling at his mom.

The details emerged as police tried to piece together why he set ablaze the apartment he lived in with his mother and then killed six people before police fatally shot him.

As the standoff unfolded, horrified residents hunkered down in their homes, at times so close to the action that they could feel the gunfire or hear negotiations between the gunman and police, authorities and witnesses said Saturday.

Vargas held the hostages 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.

"Nobody seems to know why he acted the way he acted," said Lt. Carl Zogby, a spokesman with the Hialeah Police Department.

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Detectives were investigating whether Vargas had any ongoing disputes with the building manager, as some residents believed.

"He was a good son," said Ester Lazcano, who lived on the same floor as Vargas and his mother. "He'd take her in the morning to run errands" and to doctor appointments.

Lazcano said she was in the shower when she heard the first shots, and then there were at least a dozen more.

"I felt the shots," she said.

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

She said the gunman first asked for his girlfriend and then his mother but refused to cooperate.

Valdes said Vargas was also 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."

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

Vargas, who has no known criminal record, set a combustible liquid on fire in his fourth-floor apartment while his mother, in her 80s. tried to stop him, Zogby told NBC 6. Officials said on Saturday that he was burning $10,000 cash, but it is still unclear why.

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 as his mother watched, Zogby told NBC 6.

VIDEO: Hialeah Shooting Suspect and 6 Victims Dead After Hostage Standoff

Vargas then went back into his burning apartment, got onto the balcony and fired 10 to 20 shots from a 9mm pistol into the street.

Officials said on Saturday that Vargas had bought the weapon legally and had a concealed weapons permit.

One of the bullets fired from the balcony 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. Niebles' daughter, who family members identified as 17-year-old Priscilla Perez, wanted to be a nurse.

Agustin Hernandez, Niebles' brother-in-law, loaded several old pictures and other items from his relative's apartment in a grocery cart and into his car. One showed his teenage niece smiling in a red graduation gown. Another pictured his sister-in-law posing in a white dress and pearls.

A binder also from the apartment had pop artist Justin Beiber's name on the spine, presumably belonging to Perez.

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

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

Grandmother Gladys Perez was in shock a day following the girl's death.

"She had just started to live," Gladys Perez told NBC 6.

VIDEO: Daughter of Hialeah Shooting Victim Talks About Finding Her Parents

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 hours-long 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 unit 523 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.

Rodriguez said the talks eventually "just fell apart." Officers stormed the building, fatally shooting the gunman in an exchange of gunfire.

Neighbor Carlos Sanchez, who lives in an adjacent unit, said he heard at least 18 shots fired. He hid in his living room as bullets bounced through the walls of his bedroom, staying there until police escorted him out after 1 a.m. Saturday.

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

"He was ready to fight," Zogby said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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