Still reeling from one of South Floridas deadliest mass shootings ever, the Todel Apartments in Hialeah was a quiet place on Sunday. Shock and sadness hovered over everything, as residents struggled to process all that had taken place.
Bullet holes pockmarked a 5th-floor stairwell where shooter Pedro Vargas had traded gunfire with police. On a sidewalk in front of the yellow-and-tan apartment complex, a makeshift memorial had already been created for Vargas youngest victim, 17-year-old Priscilla Perez. The memorial included dozens of candles, a pink teddy bear, a white teddy bear, and a large white sheet of paper where mourners wrote their solemn goodbyes.
We lost a friend and God gained an angel, one person wrote.
Since kindergarten & forever we will always be friends, wrote another.
Alejandro Mustafa, 17, was one of several people who helped set up the memorial. Alejandro said he went to school with Priscilla at Meadowlane Elementary School, located about a mile away.
I knew her for a long time and she was a really nice girl, Alejandro said. I knew her dad too. This would have been her senior year [in high school].
Priscilla attended Hialeahs American Christian School, and her Facebook page shows she liked roller coasters, video games, and Disney movies such as The Lion King and Finding Nemo. Her favorite books included the Twilight series and the Bible.
Mustafa said he and others began setting up the memorial around 6 p.m. Saturday evening. Drivers passing by the apartment building frequently slowed down to look at it.
Tenants of the apartment building came and went through the lobby of the complex Sunday afternoon, as they would on a typical weekend day. But several had serious looks, and tenants did not linger in the lobby area for very long.
I never imagined something like this could happen, Alejandro said. Of Priscilla, he added, I couldnt believe it. She got shot for no reason. Its really sad.
Vargas, 42, shot the teen while she hid in her bathtub one of six lives he claimed in an inexplicable shooting rampage that police are still trying to make sense of. Before opening gunfire on his neighbors and shooting another man who was simply walking across the street Vargas set $10,000 cash on fire. That first act of madness was followed by Vargas shooting and killing the apartment building managers, Italo and Camira Pisciotti, who had come to the apartment because they noticed smoke coming out of it.
Water used to put out the fire still pools in the buildings courtyard.
Vargas, a part-time graphic artist, had no criminal record and no known history of violence or mental problems. He lived with his mother in apartment 408 in the apartment complex at 1485 W. 46th St., just behind the 49th Street Kmart. Neighbors remember Vargas as a gym rat he used to work out at the local LA Fitness, where a staffer remembers him as cordial and quiet.
Others who knew Vargas, however, described him as having pent up anger. Jorge Bagos told The Associated Press that he worked out at the same gym as Vargas, and that the gunman had in the past mentioned using exercise as a way to release his anger. Vargas had also talked about using steroids, Bagos said, and he blamed his hair loss on past steroid use.