Wednesday, July 31, 2013 7:19 pm
Fla. gunman talked about witchcraft in 911 call
By CHRISTINE ARMARIOAssociated Press
In the bizarre 12-minute call, Pedro Vargas, 42, asked the dispatcher if she could run the license plate of a vehicle parked outside his building. His mother then got on the phone, telling the dispatcher her son was acting strangely.
The dispatcher told Esperanza Patterson, 83, she had officers en route to the apartment, but the mother told her not to send them, explaining first that she feared her son would turn against her, and later, that he was not there.
"He might think I'm his enemy," she said in Spanish.
The call was placed Friday at 1:37 p.m. About five hours later, Vargas set the apartment on fire and killed the husband and wife building managers, a family of three and a man who was returning from his son's boxing practice.
Vargas held police at bay for eight hours, exchanging gunfire and then taking two people hostage at gunpoint. A SWAT team eventually stormed an apartment early Saturday, rescuing both hostages and killing Vargas.
Authorities have not described a motive, but the 911 recording offered insight into Vargas' behavior. An attorney also confirmed Wednesday that Vargas acknowledged in a deposition days before the shooting that he had harassed former colleagues by email.
The 911 call and deposition were first reported by The Miami Herald.
In the call, Vargas spoke briefly and vaguely about how he was being "victimized."
"They're doing witchcraft and things to me," he said.
The dispatcher asked to speak with his mother. She got on the phone and said her son was acting "very disturbed."
"Does he have legal problems?" the dispatcher asked.
She said he did, just recently.
Three days before, Vargas had spoken with attorney Angel Castillo Jr., who questioned Vargas as part of an investigation by Bullet Line, a promotional company Vargas had worked for after being assigned to it by a temp agency. The company had received various "abusive emails and text messages" and Vargas was identified as the possible sender.
Vargas, a graphic design artist, was let go in October after Bullet Line informed the agency he was no longer needed. The disturbing messages began about a week later.
"His messages were not threatening, but personally offensive and harassing," Castillo said in a statement to The Associated Press.
Castillo said Vargas, originally from Cuba, initially denied sending the messages but later admitted to it when the lawyer suggested he might be perjuring himself.
Vargas agreed to write an apology letter and Bullet Line decided no further action was warranted.
"I accept full responsibility for what happened," Vargas wrote in an email to the company. "The main reason, I believe it is, I was sad to stop seeing you guys, enjoying lunch in your company and not been able to participate at the new place. Don't believe me, but I am pouring tears right now."
Three days later, Vargas showed up unannounced at Castillo's office at 3 p.m. and asked to speak with the attorney. He was not there. The assistant asked him to leave his contact information, but he refused, Castillo said.
Castillo said Vargas did not make hostile or threatening remarks.
The visit came about an hour and a half after the 911 call Vargas made to police. In it, Vargas mentioned Castillo.
"They're casting spells on you?" the dispatcher asked.
"Yes," Vargas said.
"Who?" the dispatcher asked, in Spanish.
"A lawyer," Vargas said, identifying Castillo.
Castillo said he did not believe Vargas went to his office to hurt him.
Vargas' mother, however, seemed frightened. On the call, she said she'd slipped two Xanax pills in her son's lunch, in an attempt to calm him down. She also said her son had gone to fill a tank with gas.
She murmured throughout the conversation, but at one point, sounding exasperated, she said, "This is going to kill me."
The dispatcher pressed Vargas' mother.
"Do I cancel the call or not because I have two police officers on the way," the dispatcher said.
"Cancel," Patterson said. "Because he's not here."
Paul Linnee, who worked in dispatch for 25 years and now has his own consulting company, said calls like the one Vargas made can often be difficult for a 911 operator to assess.
But, he noted, the dispatcher did not need the mother's permission to send officers.
"Often times, the police come to the scene when the caller really doesn't want them to come," Linnee said.
Police said they would answer questions about the 911 call at a news conference Thursday.
Angel Prieto, a resident at the apartment complex, said the officers should have been sent, even if Vargas' mother insisted that they were not needed.
"Maybe this chaos wouldn't have happened," Prieto said. "It's better to lose time and go there than not to have gone."
Associated Press writer Suzette Laboy in Miami contributed to this report.