A hostage situation and mass shooting that ended this morning with seven people dead in the South Florida town of Hialeah began when an elderly couple who managed the apartment complex left the granddaughter they were watching and went to talk to a tenant living with his mother, according to reports.
That commonplace act led to a barrage of gunfire that killed the couple, a man walking his children home and three other people apparently going about their business Friday night, according to police. The incident ended when a SWAT team stormed the apartment early Saturday where two hostages were being held by a man suspected of shooting six people.
The incident began when Italo and Samira Pisciotti went to talk to the tenant and were gunned down in a storm of 15 to 20 shots, according to the Miami Herald.
Shamira Pisciotti, the couple's daughter, told the paper that her mother appeared to have died instantly but not her dad.
"It looks like my dad was still alive after he was shot," she said.
Police identified the suspect as Pedro Alberto Vargas, 42.
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, just 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 man 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, one male and one 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.
"From up there, he was able to shoot at people across the street, catching this one man who was just walking into his apartment," Rodriguez said.
Agustin Hernandez and Alberto Martinez told NBC 6 TV that three of the victims were their sister-in-law Palis Merlis Niebles, her husband, Patricio, and her teenage daughter Priscilla Perez. Patricio worked as a handyman at the apartment complex, and Niebles was a sister of their wives, Hernandez and Martinez said.
The Pisciottis were Colombian immigrants who managed the building for 20 years and would have celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary in August, the Miami Heraldreported. They were watching their 9-year-old granddaughter at the time of the shooting, the girl's father, Carlos Almandoz, told the paper.
"They were terrific grandparents," Almandoz said. "They had an excellent relationship with my children. They took care of them while we worked."
Contributing: The Associated Press