In the days before his death, Pedro Alberto Vargas watched movie after movie involving shootings, seeking creative inspiration for his own draft screenplay.
The infatuation worried his elderly mother, who recounted her son’s actions to a relative shortly after Vargas shot and killed six neighbors on July 26.
“He has mental problems, like disorders or related to nerves?” an operator asked 83-year-old Esperanza Patterson in a 911 call hours before the rampage.
“No, no,” Patterson said. “But what he is doing is writing novels.”
Exactly how Vargas, 42, went from being a dedicated son, avid gym-goer and talented graphic designer to the enraged man behind one of the worst massacres in Hialeah history may always remain a mystery.
But from a review of public records and interviews with people who knew him emerges a portrait of a troubled loner who over the past five years appeared to have developed a pattern of anonymously harassing his former co-workers.
His habit was discovered three days before the shooting. He faced no significant consequences — yet he couldn’t let the matter go.
“He possibly took his motives to the grave,” said Carl Zogby, a Hialeah police spokesman.
Vargas was born in Havana on Oct. 3, 1970, the only child to teachers who lived on 16th Street in the city’s Vedado suburb. To many in his family he was known as Albertico. His father, who taught literature, died in 1991 or 1992, according to testimony Vargas gave in a July 23 deposition.
Between 1990 and 1994, Vargas studied at the University of Pedagogical Sciences in Havana, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in technical education with a focus on construction, transcripts show. His best grades were in English and physical education.
He briefly lived with a girlfriend, though they never married. After his father’s death, Vargas and his mother moved in with his grandmother, a relative of Patterson’s said.
The family that moved into their vacated Havana apartment complained about how filthy it was, asking if the previous tenants had kept pigs in the bathroom, according to a former Vargas neighbor in Havana who asked not to be identified.
Vargas’ mother won a U.S. visa lottery in 1995 and left for Miami, where she had a sister. Vargas himself won the same lottery two years later and moved to Miami on May 2, 1997. He was 26 years old. Mother and son eventually became U.S. citizens.
“It was just lucky,” Vargas said in the deposition. “We wanted, like everybody, to leave Cuba and come here, looking for freedom and better possibilities, work.”
In 1999, Vargas and his mother moved into the one-bedroom Hialeah apartment at 1485 W. 46th St. where they would live for the next 14 years.
He began taking classes at Miami Dade College, graduating in 2004 with an associate’s degree in graphic design and a 3.5 grade-point average.
As a student, Vargas worked briefly at a now-shuttered print shop and interned at the University of Miami, where he helped design a media guide for an athletic team. Even then he cared for his mother, a former UM intern coordinator said Friday, describing Vargas as an intense perfectionist.
“He was extremely mature and responsible,” said the coordinator, who asked not to be identified.
Upon graduating in 2004, Vargas went to work for the media services department at MDC’s North Campus. Yet he continued to live with his mother, splitting rent and utility expenses, Vargas testified in the deposition.