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

The second day of the Sebring shooter’s sentencing trial was filled with emotional testimony as jurors heard from a bank teller who survived the massacre, witnesses who showed up to the locked bank and saw the five victims lying on the floor, as well as a recording between Zephen Xaver and a crisis negotiator.  

A jury will decide if Xaver will be sentenced to death or spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing four SunTrust Bank employees and a customer on Jan. 23, 2019. 

On Tuesday morning, Benjamin Wysokowski testified that he was in the break room eating his lunch and watching YouTube videos when he heard a loud bang. 

"My first thought was that it was a firecracker," he stated. 

He went on to explain that he was able to see a video feed from the lobby area and when he heard a second bang, Wysokowski told the jury that he realized they were gunshots, and he ran out the back door and through a wooded area. 

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

Wysokowski recalled that he fell in a ditch before running to a house. He said the homeowner helped calm him down and called the police. 

Wysokowski said he had to take about a year and a half off from work following the shooting and now works in quality assurance for a factory. 

Benjamin Wysokowski, a bank teller who escaped the shooting, took the stand Tuesday morning.

Benjamin Wysokowski, a bank teller who escaped the shooting, took the stand Tuesday morning. 

After Wysokowski’s testimony, a woman who entered the bank while Xaver was in the parking lot took the stand. She told the jury she saw a man, later identified as Xaver, sitting in the parking lot when she entered the bank and when she exited the bank about five minutes later. 

She said she grabbed lunch at McDonald’s after going to the bank and saw several police cars headed toward the SunTrust. She told jurors she thought there had been a car crash in the area, but a short while later when she saw information about a shooting at a Sebring bank on her social media, she realized what had happened. 

Afterward, a man who went to the SunTrust Bank with his friend took the stand. He told jurors that the doors were locked, and he saw five people lying face-down on the floor and a man standing near a desk talking on a cellphone. 

Victor Sparks also showed up at the SunTrust Bank while Xaver was inside. He choked on his words while he told jurors that he saw five people lying face-down on the floor and a man standing over them. He said the bank doors were locked and as he walked back to his wife who was waiting in their car in the parking lot, he heard two gunshots go off. 

"Well, I didn’t know how many people were in the bank involved. I thought maybe it was a robbery in progress, so I tried to walk nonchalantly to the car in case somebody else was watching. I didn’t want them to think I saw what I saw. I heard two loud bangs as I was out in front of the brick part of the bank, so I just kept walking to the car. My wife asked me why I didn’t go into the bank, and I said, ‘There’s either a robbery in progress or they’re doing a drill.’ My wife looked around the parking lot and said there were no police cars, so it’s definitely not a drill."

He said his wife called 911 and police showed up within about 90 seconds. 

Victor Sparks told a jury that he saw five people lying face-down on the bank floor on Jan. 23, 2019, and that he heard two bangs as he walked back to his car.

Victor Sparks told a jury that he saw five people lying face-down on the bank floor on Jan. 23, 2019, and that he heard two bangs as he walked back to his car. 

The morning ended with jurors listening to a recording of a conversation between Xaver and crisis negotiator James ‘Chris’ Carr. 

When asked how many people are at the bank, Xaver replied there were five when he got there. 

Xaver explained he moved to a back room because two of the people were still breathing. 

Carr said he wanted to help Xaver and began asking him questions. 

He asked Xaver what the voices were telling him, and Xaver replied, "Do it today."

When asked if he always had the voices in his head, Xaver said he’s heard the voices since he was 11. 

Xaver also told him he was in a behavioral health center for about a month and a half, but it didn’t do anything. 

Xaver asked to be called Jack and admitted that it was a fake name. 

Carr tried to get Xaver to put down the gun and exit the bank, but when he refused, he attempted to steer the conversation to talk about things such as where Xaver grew up, cars, and sports.

After about 45 minutes, Carr got Xaver to put down his gun and walk out with his arms up. 

Booking image for Zephen Xaver

On Tuesday afternoon, jurors heard a recorded conversation between Xaver and Sebring Police Department Lt. Jeff Reinhart in which Xaver explains in detail what happened before, during and after the shooting. 

Xaver told Reinhart that he shot the women until he stopped hearing movement. 

"After the first shot, they started crying. One lady looked at me, and she tried not to look," Xaver said.

After the shooting, Xaver explained that he called 911 and told the operator that he shot five people and had a gun against his head. 

He said the voices were saying, "Shoot, kill, do it, pull the [expletive] trigger."

Xaver said, as long as the gun was against his head, the voices stopped and calmed down. 

"I knew no matter what I say (sic), I did something horrible. I couldn’t put the gun down. I wanted to shoot myself. I wanted to die. I deserve to die," Xaver said in the recording. 

Kate Fahey, a crime lab analyst with FDLE, took the stand first thing on Tuesday morning, as she continued her testimony about what investigators found at the SunTrust Bank in Sebring on Jan. 23, 2019, after Zephen Xaver shot and killed five women inside the lobby. 

During her testimony, jurors were shown items recovered from the crime scene, including the gun Xaver used in the shooting. 

On Monday, after hearing prosecutor Bonde Johnson explain why the state of Florida wants Xaver to get the death penalty, jurors listened to the 911 call Xaver made from inside the SunTrust bank after he killed the five women. 

In the recording, he told 911 operator Kristin Johnson that he had wanted to die since he was nine years old and wanted to kill others since he was 11. He went on to say that he’s heard voices telling him to kill since he was 12-years-old. 

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.

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.

Sebring shooting victims

Marisol Lopez, Jessica Montague, Debra Cook and Ana Piñon-Williams were working at the SunTrust branch on U.S. 27 when Xaver opened fire. A customer, Cynthia Watson, was also killed in the attack. 

Following the shooting, Piñon-Williams' brother-in-law made a public statement on behalf of the family. He said the mother of seven was devoted to her family and her faith, "truly a light in this world."

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"Loving her was easy. Living without her will be hard. Our family will not only survive, but we will thrive," Tim Williams said.

Bank employee Marisol Lopez, 55, leaves behind her husband and two children. Her Facebook profile picture shows her smiling with a loved one. That smile is how longtime neighbor Gil Osborne said he will remember her.

"She had the best personality, always friendly, always smiling and always generous," Osborne told FOX 13 News in an earlier interview.

Officials said there was another employee in the bank at the time of the shooting. Law enforcement did not name the employee, but said the person was in a back room when shots were fired. They were able to escape and call for help.

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. 

Prosecturos say they have more than 100 witnesses to call and Xaver's sentencing trial is expected to take several weeks.  


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