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6 dead in apartment rampage in Florida

Police kill the gunman

Friends waited for news outside a Hialeah apartment building after the shooting Friday.

Gaston De Cardenas/Reuters

Friends waited for news outside a Hialeah apartment building after the shooting Friday.

HIALEAH, Fla. — A gunman set fire to his South Florida apartment, killed six people, and took two others hostage before a SWAT team stormed the building and killed him early Saturday, police said.

Police got a call around 6:30 p.m. Friday that shots had been fired in the building, a five-story structure with dozens of apartments in Hialeah, a suburb of about 230,000 residents a few miles north of Miami.

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Pedro Vargas, a 43-year-old resident of the building, set a combustible liquid on fire to start the blaze Friday evening, police spokesman Carl Zogby said.

The building manager and his wife noticed smoke and ran to the apartment. Vargas came out and shot several times, killing both of them, according to the police account.

Vargas went to his fourth-story balcony and fired 10 to 20 shots into the street, killing a man who was parking a car outside, Zogby said. He then went down to the third floor, kicked the door in on another apartment and killed a man, his wife, and their teenage daughter.

Vargas was running through the building, firing at random with a 9mm pistol and eluding police. Police said he forced his way into an apartment and took two people hostage at gunpoint

Police had no motive for the attack, and did not immediately identify the victims.

Ester Lazcano lives two doors down from where the shooting began and said she was in the shower when she heard the first shots, then there were at least a dozen more.

Miriam Valdes, 70, who lives on the top floor of the building, said she heard about eight officers talking with the suspect. Vargas first asked for his girlfriend and then his mother but refused to cooperate, she said.

Police said the talks eventually fell apart and officers stormed the building, fatally shooting Vargas in an exchange of gunfire. Both hostages survived.

Fabian Valdes, who lives across the street, said he heard shots, then looked out his window and saw a man lying on the ground, outside the front lobby.

Miriam Valdes and other neighbors said the shooter lived in the building with his mother, but police would not confirm that information or other details on the gunman.

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’s 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-style gown, another of his sister-in-law in a white dress and pearls.

Marcela Chavarri, director of the American Christian School, said Priscila Perez 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.’’

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