Their stories span decades, lives that began in Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador and South Florida, and all ended within yards of each other on a blue-collar block in Hialeah.
The six people slain during Pedro Alberto Vargas’ shooting rampage were linked by geography, each of their three families living on the same block or apartment building, their names inextricably linked as victims of one of Hialeah’s bloodiest massacres.
Italo and Samira Pisciotti, longtime managers of Todel Apartments, doted over their grandchildren as they prepared to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary.
Carlos Gavilanes, a 33-year-old father of two, was a sports fan and hard-working salesman on the verge of opening his own shoe design and sales company.
And Merly Niebles, 51, with longtime boyfriend Patricio Simono, 64, lived a hardscrabble life with her 17-year-old daughter Priscilla Perez, who dreamed of college in New York City and beginning a career in nursing.
The gunman, Vargas, 42, suffered an apparent mental breakdown after a lawyer for his former employer confronted him with evidence he had been cyber-harassing former colleagues. Vargas lit a pile of cash ablaze inside the apartment, then shot and killed the Pisciottis as they rushed to help Vargas’ mother escape the blaze.
The shooting spree escalated when Vargas began shooting from his balcony at first responders, hitting Gavilanes as he returned home from picking up his 9-year-old son from boxing practice.
Finally, Vargas burst into Niebles’ apartment, mowing down Simono before cornering Niebles and her daughter hiding in the bathroom. He coldly shot them to death.
After Vargas took two hostages in another apartment and engaged in an hours-long standoff, Hialeah’s SWAT team shot him to death in a daring rescue raid.
The stories of the slain victims were culled together through interviews with friends, family and co-workers in Hialeah and at heart-wrenching funeral services this week.
The family anchors
Shamira Pisciotti shared with the world an online slideshow of her parents with their young grandchildren, tender moments frozen in time.
There’s Italo Pisciotti, a broad smile on his face, in front of a tinsel-draped Christmas tree, one arm wrapped around his granddaughter, the other outstretched, his finger spread into a “V”.
A side profile photo shows curly-haired Samira, her glasses off, infant grandson in her arms, both looking at each other with wonder.
And beaming Italo and Samira Pisciotti, ages 79 and 69, holding their baby grandson at his baptism, flanked by a priest.
“I want everyone to remember them as the loving grandparents they were … They lived for my children,” Shamira Pisciotti wrote on her Facebook page.
The Pisciottis hailed from Barranquilla, a coastal city in Colombia, and had moved to Miami decades ago. They were on the verge of celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. They died in the apartment building that served double duty as their home and their business. For 20 years, they managed the property.
“They were incredible. They watched me grow up, since I was 10 years old. They worked with this company with my father,” said the building’s current owner, Antonio Delgado, 44. “They were incredible workers, serious and honest. They worked at all hours and if they could help you, they would help you.”