A gunman set his Hialeah, Fla., apartment ablaze and went on a shooting spree that killed six people before he was shot to death by a SWAT team after a nearly eight hour-long ordeal, police said today.
Pedro Alberto Vargas may have shot and killed his six alleged victims with a 9mm pistol by the time officers arrived at the apartment complex, but he then held off police for eight hours before a SWAT team stormed the apartment where he had taken two people hostage, Hialeah Police spokesman Carl Zogby said in a news conference today.
The ordeal, which began Friday evening and kept the apartment complex an active crime scene throughout the night, began when Vargas, 43, set fire to the apartment he shared with his mother, Zogby said.
Fire officials arrived at the apartment to respond to the blaze at around 6:30 p.m., but when they heard gunshots, they called police to the scene, Zogby said.
The gunman led police on a nearly five-hour chase as he dodged in and out of apartments and hallways in the approximately 90-unit building until he hunkered down in an apartment where he held two hostages at gunpoint.
Among the six people -- three male and three female -- who were killed in the shooting rampage was a married couple who managed the building.
Italo Pisciotti, 79, and Camira Pisciotti, 69, had run toward the apartment when they noticed the smoke billowing out of it, but Vargas came outside and opened fire at the couple, killing them on the spot, Zogby said.
Vargas then ran back into his burning apartment and onto his fourth story balcony, where he fired at least 20 shots at random into the street, the police spokesman said.
From his balcony, Vargas killed 33-year-old Carlos Javier Gavilanes, who had just arrived home from work and was parking his car across the street, Zogby said.
It is unclear if Gavilanes' children were with their father at the time that he was shot, Zogby said.
Vargas also killed Patricio Simono, 69, his wife Merly Niebles, 51, and their 17-year-old daughter after he kicked down the door of their third floor apartment, Zogby said.
Officials are not releasing the name of the 17-year-old victim at this time.
Negotiators spent nearly three hours trying to placate Vargas. But when negotiations broke down, the SWAT team "made the decision to go in there and save and rescue the hostages," Hialeah Police Sgt. Eddie Rodriguez told the Associated Press.
Zogby said Vargas "was ready to fight," and was armed with several rounds of ammunition and a number of magazines. He was killed in a shoot out with SWAT officers.
"Had we not cornered him, this could have been a much greater tragedy," Zogby said.
The hostages, whose names have not been released, were unharmed from the ordeal.
Zogby said investigators are still working to discover Vargas' alleged motive, but as of this afternoon they still had not found any.
Some neighbors described Vargas as a quiet man who lived at the apartment with his mother, Zogby said.
"He had an unremarkable background, no one seems to know why he acted," he said. "We don't have an explanation."
The suspect's mother reportedly is with family in Miami and was not in the apartment at the time of the shooting, Zogby said.
While residents were able to escape during the gunfire, some left their doors open, which allowed the gunman access to their balconies, Rodriguez said.
Many spent hours in nearby shopping stores on lockdown overnight while police tried to clear the scene.
Residents were allowed back into the buildings at approximately 5 a.m. today, with the exception of those with units on the fourth and fifth floors, police said.