SEBRING — The SunTrust shooting was a terrible thing, Sebring Mayor John Shoop said. “We didn’t think it would happen to us,” he said. You can talk about it and plan for it, but there’s no way to be prepared for every type of scenario, he said.
When asked how angry he was about the incident, Shoop said, “I’m more irritated about the whole system. A person has been indicated several times as having had mental health issues, but there was nothing on his record.”
Shoop was referring to Zephen Xaver’s psychiatric problems, which had previously been reported on by the Highlands News-Sun.
According to documents provided by the Bremen Police Department, on Feb. 20, 2014, the police department received a call from the high school regarding Xaver, who said he had a dream of “killing other students in a classroom.”
Xaver told law enforcement he was allowed to take a nap during the fifth hour at school if he felt he needed one. Upon waking from his afternoon nap, he said he a similar dream where he killed multiple students.
The high school counselor contacted Eric Foster Counseling Services and spoke to his counselor, who said he should be transported to Behavioral Health Center in Plymouth. His mother agreed.
On March 20, police were given advance notice that Xaver was going to be re-admitted and their assistance may be required if they received another call “due to Zephen’s psychiatric issues.”
Shoop also referred to Xaver’s short stint in the Army and the Avon Park Correctional Institute. He felt that some sort of record concerning his psychiatric issues should have been made public. “When we look at the rights of the offenders rather than the rights of mankind, then people can become victims,” Shoop said.
“I’m very irritated and disappointed that society has gotten to this point where it can’t be noted that people have this type of deficiency, especially when they express the intent [to kill] over and over again.”
Although Shoop is disappointed with a system that allows severe psychiatric issues to go undocumented, he is pleased with the response of the community to the mass shooting. “We have such a good community. We have feelings for each other. We have come together with kindness and we have helped the people affected by the tragedy.”
Shoop has reached out to first responders and victims. He stays in constant contact with the Sebring Police Department and the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office. He is proud of the way these two agencies work together and help each other. In addition, he is pleased with the way that the community has supported the first responders and the families of the victims.
In the future, he forsees some sort of debriefing for the government agencies involved in the shooting crisis. “I don’t feel that anyone has fully processed what happened,” Shoop said. “People are still processing why it happened here.”
In order to respond to the event as competently as possible, Shoop and other government leaders talked to Parkland City Administration. On Feb. 14, 2018, a gunman killed 17 people at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. “We had a great conversation with Parkland City Administration. We asked how they helped their citizens.”
Shoop believes that the issue of what to do with the SunTrust property where the shooting occurred is a sensitive issue. However, he believes “some sort of memorial park where people could sit and watch the lake would probably be a proper use of the property.
“SunTrust has stepped up for the workers and the families,” Shoop said. “They have done a good job of hitting this head on. They’ve done a top-notch job.”
Although the shooting happened at SunTrust, Shoop believes that the incident affected every bank in the community and state. Shoop is the president of Center State Bank in Sebring, and he said, “We train a lot for burglaries and we have lots of security systems. The incident reiterates the need to be continually conscious of what’s going on.
“Our employees [at CenterState] knew these people,” Shoop said. “It has affected them and the staff in all banks. We brought in counselors for our people.
“Every bank has taken a look at how they handle security, but you can’t train a teller to be a Marine,” Shoop said.
“Xaver was fascinated with death and killing,” Shoop said.
He created a tragic loss for the community, but Shoop believes that Highlands County is filled with many kind-hearted people who will pull together to help each other heal.
Allen Moody, Kim Leatherman and Ruth Ann Lawson contributed to this story.