Pedro Alberto Vargas, the man who gunned down six of his Hialeah neighbors in a rampage Friday night, lived in a cramped, one-bedroom apartment with his 83-year-old mother. But a year ago, he had $92,000 in his bank account, records obtained by El Nuevo Herald show.
A glimpse into apartment 408 revealed that Vargas, a complex character who lived an apparently austere existence, kept a machete, plenty of weightlifting equipment and dozens of bootlegged DVDs in the home he shared with his mother, Esperanza Patterson.
A crew cleaning the charred apartment Monday afternoon let an El Nuevo Herald reporter take a look at some of Vargas’ belongings, many of them apparently headed for the garbage.
Among them were a series of yellow Post-It notes, numbered like a storyboard, and pirated copies of popular television shows such as Star Trek, Mad Men and Dexter, a show about a Miami serial killer.
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Vargas was killed Saturday by a SWAT team at the end of a four-hour long standoff with police, after the gunman took two other neighbors hostage. The couple survived. Earlier, Vargas shot and killed six neighbors — five in his building at 1485 W. 46th St. and one across the street — with his Glock 9mm semiautomatic pistol. His motive remained unknown Monday.
Records obtained by the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald showed that Vargas, a freelance graphic designer, was forced to resign from his job at Miami Dade College’s North Campus in 2008 after his employer investigated him for violating the public university’s rules.
Vargas downloaded at least 24 files “of a personal nature, covering a variety of topics deemed to be inappropriate” to his work computer desktop, according to a Dec. 10, 2008, termination letter issued by MDC. He resigned the next day.
“It was also learned that just prior to his resignation, on one occasion, he visited an anti-government website,” MDC spokesman Juan Mendieta said in a statement.
When he was initially presented with the allegations against him, Vargas wrote in a letter that the allegations were “false.” “I do not have any desire to work under such intoxicating environment that has been created in the department,” he wrote.
Vargas, who graduated from MDC with an associate’s degree in graphic design, worked part-time at the university’s media services department from 2004 to 2007 and full-time from 2007 to 2008, according to the statement. Vargas later worked for the University of Miami and, most recently, for tech-product seller Systemax until 2009, according to an online version of his résumé.
“During his full-time tenure, his supervisors became concerned about his performance, including his punctuality, adherence to deadlines, the quality of his work, and the following of orders, among other issues,” before the university detected Vargas’ visits to “inappropriate websites during work hours,” the MDC statement said.
His former supervisor said Monday that he had long suspected Vargas of being behind a series of threatening e-mails and text messages — some of them sexual — the supervisor received beginning in April 2009, after Vargas’ resignation.
Th supervisor, Elmo Lugo, said one of the messages included a photo illustration of Lugo decapitated. Another suggested that Lugo should die from the same cancer that killed the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Lugo said.
“It would go from very nasty language to things that sounded, to me, kind of funny,” said Lugo, who was first interviewed by WSVN-FOX 7 on Monday. “What really triggered my suspicion was the vocabulary and... the grammar mistakes that were made on the texts. That led me to think it was him, just because of the way he communicated.”
Lugo, who no longer works for MDC, said he reported the messages to several police agencies that were only able to trace their origin to a Hialeah public library.
Another former MDC employee who also supervised Vargas told the Miami Herald that he and his wife also received threats via text, email and Facebook that he suspected came from Vargas. “I could never communicate with him, but you could feel the hate within him,” said the employee, who asked not to be named.
The supervisor characterized the “inappropriate” websites Vargas visited as a significant security threat, but declined to explain further.
After Vargas was forced out, someone in the office posted fliers with Vargas’ photo, saying he was prohibited from being on the property. The university took down the fliers soon after, the supervisor said.
Among the detritus at Vargas’ apartment Monday was an old MDC employee badge that expired in 2007 and a bullet casing.
The cleaning crew had emptied most of the apartment, leaving a bare mattress and chest drawers in the hallway outside. Inside, the floor was littered with hand-labeled sci-fi DVDs in jewel cases, sneakers and crumpled papers, including apparent instructions to succeed in a video game and a $15.39 payment to Kohl’s, the department store.
A July 2012 bank statement showed Vargas had $92,585.76 in a savings account. An earlier statement, from October 2007, showed $70,814.29 in the account. Friday’s shooting began after Vargas set about $10,000 of his cash savings on fire in his apartment, police have said.
Though several tenants in the five-story Todel Apartments had suggested that Vargas’ shooting spree began after he had been told he would have to vacate the unit, the building’s owner and court records obtained Monday showed that there was no eviction process under way. The daughter of the building managers killed by Vargas also said there was no truth to the rumor.
Patterson, Vargas’ mother, had recently been scheduled for an interview with Miami-Dade County to determine her eligibility for public housing. She didn’t show up for the interview, scheduled for noon Monday.
The application with the county’s department of public housing and community development shows that Patterson had sought housing only for herself, not her son. She had been on the wait list since 2008, records show, and had also sought housing assistance on seven occasions from the Hialeah public housing authority since 1996.
Patterson, whom police say has been staying with Miami relatives since the shooting, could not be reached for comment.
Vargas himself had not applied for aid from Section 8, the federally funded housing program.
The innards of the family’s shared apartment offered other clues into Vargas’ character. A series of 13 numbered Post-It notes, handwritten in English using black ink, seemed to tell a story starring a character named Louie.
“Louie back home,” one of the notes reads. “Drenched in sweat prepares a shake. We hear the TV reporting Elizabeth as a girl who is missing. An expert talks about the rise of human traffick” [sic]. Another one refers to “feeding time for the piranhas” during “brothel day.”
There was also a tennis racket and a bench press, along with weight-lifting plates. Vargas has been described by neighbors as a gym rat who frequented the local LA Fitness.
Jorge Bagos, 54, who knew the gunman from the gym, said Vargas wore the same white tank top, gym shorts, white crew socks and sneakers in every workout, even if they were visibly dirty. He sometimes spent up to four hours pumping iron and expressed frustration with women in his life.
“‘They would use me for my money,’” Bagos recalled Vargas saying.
Building owner Antonio Delgado said Monday he knew little about Vargas, and none of the paperwork associated with the apartment rental has information on him.
“We have nothing. All we know is that he was a very discreet person,” Delgado said. “He was like a ghost.”
Miami Herald staff writers Joey Flechas and David Ovalle, and El Nuevo Herald staff writers Enrique Flor and Julio Menache contributed to this report.