Sebring bank shooting: Gunman’s mother tells jurors he had a dream about a school shooting

Jurors in the Sebring bank shooting sentencing trial heard from gunman Zephen Xaver’s mother for the second time on Tuesday. 

Misti Hendricks testified about how her son changed when he turned 13. 

She explained that Xaver went into a psychiatric facility for the first time after he called a suicide helpline and was found on his dad's roof with a rope. 

Hendricks told the jurors that he was hospitalized on several other occasions and while she wanted him to be placed in a residential treatment program, he never seemed to qualify. 

"I called facilities. I called doctors. I called everybody I knew to call, and he just couldn’t get in," Hendricks stated. 

She went on to say that her son dropped out of high school after he had a dream while in the school nurse's office about a school shooting. 

"Never in a million years did I think that it would come true," Hendricks told the jury. 

She said that she dropped her son off at the gun store to purchase a firearm, and she was fine with him owning a gun.

Zephen Xaver's mother testifies for the second day in a row.

Zephen Xaver's mother testifies for the second day in a row. 

Xaver walked into a SunTrust Bank in Sebring on Jan. 23, 2019, and shot four employees and one customer inside. Now, a jury will decide if he will be sentenced to death or spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Xaver’s former stepfather, Michael Mitchell, testified via video call and told the jurors he never saw Xaver act violently or aggressively. 

Mitchell began crying when he said he cared about Xaver and still loved him. 

Zephen Xaver's former stepfather Michael Mitchell testified remotely on Tuesday.

Zephen Xaver's former stepfather, Michael Mitchell, testified remotely on Tuesday. 

Xaver's great aunt also took the stand on Tuesday morning. She recalled an incident in which Xaver's father pushed his mother down the stairs when he was in high school. She added that while mental illness does not run in their family, she and her sister both take anti-depressants. 

A string of Xaver’s former teachers also testified on Tuesday. 

They said he was quiet and well-mannered but had an issue doing his homework. Two of his former teachers recalled Xaver’s eyes and said he seemed to be "looking through them" when they spoke to him about not turning in his homework. 

Former teacher Karen Cox said she had a soft spot in her heart for Xaver because she knew his father when he was younger and recalled him acting controlling with a high school girlfriend and punching her father in the face. 

She went on to say, "I thought if I could have a son like Zephen, I’d be so proud."

Zephen Xaver's former teacher Karen Cox testified on Tuesday morning.

Zephen Xaver's former teacher Karen Cox testified on Tuesday morning. 

Another former teacher and athletic director told the jurors that Xaver’s dad wanted him to play football, but Xaver didn’t want to play. While she could not recall if Xaver played football, another teacher testified that she remembered him wearing a uniform to class on game days, but he didn’t seem excited when she asked him if he was looking forward to the game. 

On Monday, Xaver’s attorneys told the jury that he had been hit in the head hard during a football game and even mentioned a brain tumor. 

During the defense's opening statement, Xaver's lawyer said that the evidence they will present this week is not an excuse or a justification for him shooting and killing five women at the SunTrust Bank, because there is no excuse.

However, the defense is arguing that Xaver’s life should be spared and jurors should sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

While on the stand on Tuesday, Hendricks shared that she e-mails with her son at the jail every day and does a video chat with him once a week. She said she loves her son and will continue to have contact with him if he is sentenced to life in prison. 

Tuesday was the second day Hendricks testified in her son's sentencing trial. 

On Monday, she told jurors she suffered from post-partum depression after she gave birth to her younger son Zachary in 1999. She said her doctor gave her medications that had her seeing and hearing things. She said she never saw or heard things before taking the medication.

She spoke about those struggles again on Tuesday and told jurors that doctors initially misdiagnosed her with bipolar and schizophrenia. The medication they gave her made her start hearing and seeing things. She said things got better when she got off those medications and on medication to treat post-partum depression. She stated that she still takes medication for anxiety and depression, and it seems to be working. 

Hendricks noted that she pulled her son off of prescribed medication for mental illness because she was scared he may have the same reaction she did. She said that her son never told her he was hearing voices. 

She went on to say that the night before the Sebring shooting, she had a long conversation with her son, and he was supposed to start a new job on Jan. 23, 2019. She was traveling for business that morning and did not see him the day of the shooting. 

On cross-examination, Hendrick said that Xaver knew the difference between right and wrong. 

Zephen Xaver's mother testifies at his sentencing trial.

Zephen Xaver's mother testifies at his sentencing trial. 

Last Friday, friends and family of Marisol Lopez, Jessica Montague, Debra Cook, Ana Pinon Wiliams and Cynthia Watson told the jury how their lives were destroyed by the murders. Several jurors wiped tears from their eyes as Xaver sat stone-faced with his head propped in his hand. 

Last Thursday, jurors heard from Zephen Xaver’s ex-girlfriend, high school student Imani Davis. She told the jury that after months of not communicating, Xaver reached out to her on Jan. 23, 2019, and seemed uncharacteristically happy and excited. 

Read: Sebring bank shooting: Jurors hear 911 call as gunman's sentencing trial gets underway

She said Xaver sent her a message at 12:14 p.m. on Jan. 23, 2019, which read, "The fun part, the [expletive] cliché clincher, is that I’m not going out alone. I’m taking a few people out with me because I’ve always wanted to kill people, so I’m going to try it and see how it goes. Watch out for me on the news – Sebring, Florida."

She said she wrote back, "There’s something wrong with you. Seriously."

Xaver's ex-girlfriend Imani Davis testifies at his sentencing trial.

Xaver's ex-girlfriend Imani Davis testifies at his sentencing trial. 

Then she told her teacher about the messages and school officials contacted law enforcement. 

Another friend of Xaver’s took the stand Thursday and testified that she contacted her local law enforcement in Michigan after Xaver sent her a message stating that he wanted to hold up a bank. He wanted the police to shoot him, so they would look like heroes. 

READ: Sebring bank shooting trial: Gunman tells police ‘I deserve to die for this’ in video played for jurors

Police said they contacted Xaver’s mother at the time and said they saw no reason to follow up. 

Testimony in the sentencing trial began on Monday, June 10. Since then, jurors heard from a bank teller who escaped the massacre, law enforcement officers and witnesses who arrived at the bank that afternoon to find the doors locked and people lying on the floor.

Jurors also watched an interview between Xaver and police shortly after his arrest in which he said, "I deserve to die for this."

Last week, jurors listened to the 911 call Xaver made from inside the bank moments after he shot five women inside. 

Twice, Xaver's defense team called for a mistrial. The first time was over an audience member who had an audible reaction to testimony and the presence of a therapy dog in the courtroom, and the second time was when an employee at the gun store where Xaver purchased his firearm gave him a dirty look when he entered the courtroom to testify. 

Both times, the judge denied the mistrial. 

Who is Zephen Xaver? 

The man police say shot and killed five people in a Sebring, Florida, SunTrust bank was described by a woman who knew him as "normal" and "well-mannered."

Sharon Spillane, a friend of Xaver’s parents, told FOX 13 in 2019 that she never in a million years saw this coming. 

"We’ve cooked together, I’ve been in their house, we’ve watched movies. They’re a very normal family," Spillane said. "He had a job, and he was very quiet and very well-mannered. Anytime that I saw him, he was very well-mannered, always good posture and well-spoken."

However, Xaver’s ex-girlfriend paints a different picture. In a previous interview with FOX 13, Alex Gerlach said Xaver was obsessed with guns and knives.

"The only thing I can remember is him talking about guns and wanting guns," Gerlach said in a 2019 interview. "He wants to hurt people physically."

According to Gerlach, she met Xaver in a psychiatric hospital in 2013. She said they dated off and on for about two years.

Pictured: Zephen Xaver

Pictured: Zephen Xaver

"At one point, my mother was terrified because she thought he was going to physically harm me," explained Gerlach, who described Xaver as a troubled teen. "For some reason, he always hated people and wanted everybody to die."

Gerlach said Xaver continued to make chilling comments over the years and said one week before the shooting he sent her a picture of him holding a gun.

"I've been scared for years and every single person I've told has not taken it seriously, and it's very unfortunate it had to come to this," she said in 2019.

Documents provided by the Bremen Police Department in Indiana state officers went to Xaver's high school in 2014, after school officials said he was having disturbing thoughts.

The documents state Xaver told school officials he had dreams of hurting his classmates. According to the police report, Xaver's mother agreed to take her son to a behavioral health center.

In recorded conversations played for the jury, Xaver states that medication did not help him and neither did his time at a behavioral treatment center. He claimed that voices in his head told him to kill people. However, a psychologist who took the stand on Thursday said he did not believe Xaver was really hearing voices because he appeared to be very calm and methodical in video that shows him carrying out the murders. 

The Florida Department of Corrections confirmed Xaver was a correctional officer trainee with Avon Park Correctional Institution for about two months. He resigned two weeks before the shooting.

Who were the victims?

Marisol Lopez, Jessica Montague, Debra Cook, Ana Pinon Wiliams and Cynthia Watson were killed on Jan. 23, 2019, when Xaver, who was 21 at the time, walked into the SunTrust Bank on Highway 27, wearing a bullet-proof vest and armed with a gun he recently purchased, forced the women to lie on the floor and shot them to death. 

Ana Piñon Williams came to America from Mexico when she was 12 years old and picked fruits and vegetables to support her family. 

She is remembered as a loving daughter, mother, sister, and friend who was the glue that kept their family together. 

"She lives in and through us," Anna’s sister Blanca told the jury. "We continue her legacy with humbleness, compassion, empathy, and a strong faith in God. She was a ray of sunshine and a breath of fresh air."

Pictured: Anna Pinon Williams

Pictured: Ana Piñon Williams

Debra Cook was a cancer survivor who had been married to her husband, Michael Cook, one month shy of 35 years. 

He said they didn't have to work, but she wanted to work, so she could help out her children and travel. 

RELATED: Sebring bank shooting trial: Jurors hear from bank teller who escaped, crisis negotiation recording

"No one expects to say goodbye to a loved one in the morning and never see them, hold them, or talk to them again," Michael Cook stated. "Everyone expects to say goodbye to the ones they love."

Debra Cook

Debra Cook

Friends and family describe Marisol Lopez as an exceptional human being who was a daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend. 

Her daughter said her world stopped on January 23, 2019, when Lopez was killed. 

"I lost the one person I trusted entirely, and now I am very alone, and I feel so isolated. I may have been 21 when she died, but I was still a girl who needed her mom."

Pictured: Marisol Lopez

Pictured: Marisol Lopez

Family members described Cynthia Watson as having the heart of an angel and described her as empathetic, compassionate, adventurous, and strong. She was a wife, mother, grandmother, sister and daughter.

Her daughter says she has been sentenced to a lifetime of grief since the passing of her mother

Pictured: Cynthia Watson

Pictured: Cynthia Watson

Jessica Montague is described as a loving, caring, and kind person. 

Her mother, Tina Warner, said, "I never knew what a true heartbreak was until Jessie was taken from us. She always lit up a room with her outstanding personality."

Warner added, "I miss my Jessie every day. The hole in my heart will never heal. My love for my daughter will never be replaced by anyone or anything."

Jessica Montague

Pictured: Jessica Montague

Police said they haven't found any connection between suspect Xaver and the victims. It also did not appear that there had been any attempt to rob the bank.

Will Zephen Xaver get the death penalty? 

Xaver’s trial will be one of the first high-profile cases in Florida where the death penalty sentence no longer hinges on a unanimous jury verdict.

Florida lawmakers made the change in 2023, shortly after jurors spared the life of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooter in a 9-3 decision.

Florida law now states that a defendant may be sentenced to death if at least 8 of the 12 jurors recommend execution. 

State Attorney Brian Haas says all five of the victims‘ families support seeking the death penalty in this case. 

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