Hundreds remember 5 women gunned down in bank a year after massacre

Highlands County

SEBRING, Fla. (WFLA) – Hundreds of people from Sebring, and points beyond, came to a ceremony Thursday morning to remember five women shot and killed inside a SunTrust Bank a year ago to the day.

Many had stories to tell.

“She was a wonderful person,” said Bonnie McHargue, about her former co-worker, Marisol Lopez. “You could walk into the room and she’d have the biggest smile. Always made a connection with you.”

McHargue, like many others at the ceremony, still can’t believe Lopez, Jessica Montague, Ana Pinon-Williams, Debra Cook and Cynthia Watson are gone. Watson was a customer that day in 2019; the other women worked at the branch.

“Hard, unbelievable,” McHargue said. “There’s just no words for it. Still unbelievable. But we miss Marisol.”

Zephen Xaver remains in jail. He’s accused of killing the women and is charged with five counts of first-degree murder. He had apparently said he’s fascinated with killing and death, according to reports.

Since the day this tiny Highlands County city was rocked, the bank has been demolished and a new park sits in its place. It’s called Reflection Park and city leaders along with family members came out Thursday to dedicate the site.

“We’ve been healing, seeking God, praying,” said Blanco Pinon, who’s sister, Ana, was killed. “Trying to stay together as a family.”

She and her sister, Maria, spoke to reporters after the ceremony and looked back at their sister’s life fondly.

“She definitely was a very caring person. It’s been hard. Every day you relieve the same day, every day. Every day I try to be strong for my family,” Maria said.

For the sisters, the hardest part has been watching Ana’s children go on without her, they explained.

“It saddens me to see my nieces and nephews grieving her, especially today,” Blanca said. “Watching my nephews cry for her.”

Debbie Hughes remembers Jessica Montague, who Hughes said worked at a bank in Avon Park, before taking the position at the SunTrust location in Sebring.

“Very sweet, caring person,” Hughes said. “She was the best.”

SunTrust and the Sebring mayor’s office worked together on the park and the dedication. It was paid for by the Truist Foundation, formerly the SunTrust Foundation. It’s located at 1901 U.S Highway 27 in Sebring.

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