HIALEAH, Fla. -- A gunman holding hostages inside a South Florida apartment complex killed six people before being shot to death by a SWAT team that stormed the building early Saturday following an hours-long standoff, police said.
Sgt. Eddie Rodriguez told The Associated Press that police got a call around 6:30 p.m. Friday that shots had been fired in a building with dozens of apartments in Hialeah, a few miles north of Miami.
Rodriguez said that when police arrived, they discovered an active shooter situation: “He’s inside the building, moving from floor to floor. Eventually he barricades himself in an apartment.”
A crisis team was able to briefly establish communication with the man. Rodriguez said negotiators and a SWAT team tried talking with him from the other side of the door of an apartment unit where he was holding two hostages.
But Rodriguez said the talks eventually “just fell apart.” Officers stormed the building, fatally shooting the gunman in an exchange of gunfire.
“They made the decision to go in there and save and rescue the hostages,” Rodriguez said. Both hostages survived. Rodriguez said he didn’t have any information on how long negotiations lasted.
He said police discovered two people, a male and female, shot to death in the hallway in front of one unit. Three more, a male and two females, were found shot and killed in another apartment on a different floor. Another man who was walking his children into an apartment across the street also was killed. Rodriguez said it wasn’t immediately clear whether the gunman took aim at him from an upper-level balcony or if he was hit by a stray bullet.
Zulima Niebles said police told her that three of her family members were among the victims. She said her sister Merly Sophia Niebles, her sister’s husband, and her sister’s daughter Priscila Perez, 16, were all shot and killed.
Zulima Niebles’ husband, Agustin Hernandez, was moving the family’s things out of the apartment building and into his car Saturday. Among them were several photos, one showing the teen girl smiling in a red graduation gown, another of his sister-in-law in a white dress, wearing pearls.
Marcela Chavarri, director of the American Christian School, said Priscila Perez, 16, was about to enter her senior year at the school.
“She was a lovely girl,” Chavarri said through tears. “She was always happy and helping her classmates.”
Officials were not identifying the gunman or victims. Rodriguez said police were still investigating.
Neighbor Fabian Valdes, who lives across the street from the site of the standoff, said he heard shots fired and then looked out his window and saw a man lying on the floor, outside the front lobby. He was on his back and had his arms and legs outstretched.
Valdes said he was in shock. “It’s something you never expect,” he said.
In Hialeah — a suburb of about 230,000 residents, about three-quarters of whom are Cuban or Cuban-American — the entrance to the quiet neighborhood lined with apartment buildings was blocked off early Saturday.
The standoff occurred in an aging beige five-story building with an open terrace in the middle. The apartment where neighbors said the shooting started was charred, the door and ceiling immediately outside burned black.
Miriam Valdes, 70, said she lives on the top floor — one floor above where the shooting began. She said she heard gunfire and later saw smoke entering her apartment.
She described running in fear to the unit across the hall, where she stayed holed up as officers negotiated with the gunman.
From the apartment, Valdes said she could hear about eight officers talking with the gunman.
She said she heard the officers tell him to “let these people out.”
“We’re going to help you,” she said they told him.
She said the gunman first asked for his girlfriend and then his mother but refused to cooperate.
Ester Lazcano said she lives two doors down from where the shooting began and was in the shower when she heard the first shots. Then there were many more.
“I felt the shots,” she said.
Neighbors said the gunman lived in the building with his mother, but police wouldn’t confirm that information.
Rodriguez said police were still investigating identities of victims and the gunman, as well as a possible motive.
“Investigators are talking with families of the victims, neighbors, people that were present when all this began,” he said. “That way we can start to piece together this huge puzzle that we’re working with.”
Associated Press writer Suzette Laboy contributed to this report.