Hialeah Mass Shooting

Hialeah shooting victims’ families grapple with senseless loss

Six neighbors did routine, mundane things Friday evening in Hialeah. A father parked his car after his son’s boxing practice. A family hung out inside their apartment. A husband and wife, both building managers, knocked on a tenant’s door.

At some point, the tenant pulled out a 9mm pistol.

By the end of the night, the six neighbors were dead. So was the gunman, Pedro Alberto Vargas, 42, killed by a SWAT team that stormed the apartment where for hours he kept two more neighbors hostage.

These are the victims’ stories:

Samira and Italo Pisciotti

The first to die were Italo and Samira Pisciotti, the husband and wife who managed the building at 1485 W. 46th St., where Vargas and his mother, Esperanza Patterson, were tenants of apartment 408.

After an apparent dispute, Vargas fired about 15 to 20 shots, killing 79-year-old Italo and 69-year-old Samira.

Their daughter Shamira, who lives in another unit in the building, said her parents were babysitting their 9-year-old granddaughter when the shooting began.

“I saw my mother’s dead body,” Shamira Pisciotti said. “She died the moment she was shot, but it looks like my dad was still alive after he was shot.”

Their granddaughter remained in the Pisciottis’ apartment, “waiting for them to come back,” said Carlos Almandoz, Shamira Pisciotti’s boyfriend and the girl’s father.

“They were terrific grandparents,” he added. “They had an excellent relationship with my children. They took care of them while we worked.”

The couple had come to the United States from Colombia. They had managed the building for 20 years and were a month away from celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary, Almandoz said. They had never mentioned anything about problems with any building tenants.

Pedro Perez, a tenant in the building, described Italo Pisciotti as being, at times, confrontational when dealing with his tenants.

There were loud words exchanged in the halls sometimes, he said.

By contrast, first-floor tenant Gerardo Peraza said the Pisciottis were very cordial and easy to talk to.

Carlos Gavilanes

From his fourth-floor balcony, Vargas continued shooting. A bullet hit 33-year-old Carlos Gavilanes, who was walking into his apartment complex across the street with his son, whom he had just picked up from boxing practice.

“Run! Run! Run!” Gavilanes shouted to 9-year-old Carlos, according to the boy’s mother and Gavilanes’ longtime girlfriend, Jennifer Kharrazian. A bullet had already shattered the front door of the building at 1480 W 46th St., she said.

Once he realized he had been shot, Gavilanes stumbled, trying to feel his way along the wall, his son told Kharrazian. Then he fell to the ground.

“My son was screaming his name, and he collapsed, and my son was over his body,” Kharrazian said, tears falling.

She raced downstairs from their apartment, she said, yelling for paramedics. Two neighbors tried to resuscitate Gavilanes, giving him CPR. When the paramedics arrived, they tried to revive him, Kharrazian said.

“He died,” she said. “He just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

With Vargas still on the loose, police didn’t let Kharrazian out of the building to meet her mother-in-law, who had raced to Hialeah after receiving an anguished call from Kharrazian after the shooting. Kharrazian holed up for hours, until nearly 2 a.m., in a windowless bathroom in her apartment with the couple’s son and 2-year-old daughter, Victoria.

Gavilanes, who hailed from an Ecuadorean family, grew up in New York. He moved to Miami 11 years ago, Kharrazian said, after meeting her through mutual friends on South Beach and falling in love. Interested in fashion, Gavilanes sold shoes at Nordstrom, learning the retail side of the business after beginning as a wholesaler, Kharrazian said.

The couple hadn’t gotten married, but in an interview with the Miami Herald, she referred to him as her husband. So did Gavilanes’ mother, Cynthia Ontiveros of Pembroke Pines.

Gavilanes planned to start his own shoe business with his father in August, the women said. The young family intended to leave Hialeah soon.

“They were going to move — God willing, here, to Pembroke Pines,” Ontiveros said in Spanish.

Then, she added: “Such a senseless death.”

Priscilla Perez, Merly Niebles and Patricio Simono

Seventeen-year-old Priscilla Perez sought cover in a bathtub when Vargas’ shooting spree began.

But that was not enough to save her.

Vargas made his way to apartment 304, where Priscilla lived with her mother, Merly Niebles, 51.

He shot the two women dead, along with a man, 64-year-old Patricio Simono, believed to be Niebles’ boyfriend.

Priscilla worked part-time at Lyn’s Furniture in Opa-locka, where co-workers grew concerned Saturday morning when she didn’t report to the store, missing their usual breakfast together.

“We checked on her and found out about this horrible, horrible tragedy,” said Catalina Vasquez, whose husband worked with Priscilla.

Vasquez described Priscilla as close to her mother, whom the girl tried to help financially.

“She was a lovely, sweet young girl, a very hard worker and very responsible,” Vasquez said. “She babysat for my kids, and I trusted her with them.”

Ivette Torre, another employee, referred to Priscilla as her “surrogate daughter,” and added: “We’re very affected by her death.”

Alberto Martinez, who said he was a cousin of the family, went to the crime scene carrying photos of Priscilla and Niebles. “I … found out in the morning when the detectives called,” he said in Spanish.

A few men who knew Simono chatted at a liquor store in the shopping center behind the apartment complex Saturday afternoon, remembering him as a friendly man who frequented the store.

“It’s a shame,” said Marino Nazco, 70, owner of Papi Liquor and Food Store.

Priscilla’s paternal grandparents, Julian and Gladys Perez of North Miami Beach, learned of their granddaughter’s death from a Miami Herald reporter who telephoned them Saturday afternoon.

“Oh my God,” a stricken Gladys Perez cried out in Spanish, in disbelief that Vargas had also killed Niebles and Simono.

Julian Perez said their son, also named Julian, long ago split from Niebles. The younger Julian Perez is a doctor in the Perezes’ native Dominican Republic, his father said.

The older Julian Perez said Niebles was originally from Colombia.

“She was good people. She was very wholesome,” he said.

The grandparents had lost touch with their former daughter-in-law, he added, but their granddaughter telephoned them on occasion.

“She was a good girl,” her grandfather said. “Very calm.”

Miami Herald staff writers Joey Flechas, Glenda Ortega, Charles Rabin and Luisa Yanez, and El Nuevo Herald staff writer María Pérez contributed to this report.

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