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Motive a mystery in Miami area mass shooting

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - Miami police on Sunday searched for a motive for a shooting rampage in which six people were killed by a gunman who set his apartment on fire before shooting several neighbors and taking others hostage.

The police said they were investigating reports that the man, Pedro Alberto Vargas, 42, was in the process of being evicted and had prior disputes with the managers of the building.

The owner of the 90-unit apartment building was not immediately available for comment.

More than 100 police, including SWAT teams, stormed an apartment in Hialeah, a suburb of Miami, in a pre-dawn raid on Saturday, killing Vargas and rescuing two of the hostages.

"When we found him, he still had plenty of live rounds of ammunition," Hialeah Police spokesman Carl Zogby told reporters. "This was an irrational act and many times there is no rational explanation."

The weapon used in the incident, a 9-millimeter Glock handgun, was purchased legally in 2010, Zogby said.

Vargas, who arrived in the United States from Cuba in 1997, was described as a part-time graphic artist who kept largely to himself and cared for his elderly mother. He became a U.S. citizen in 2004, according to El Nuevo Herald, south Florida's main Spanish-language newspaper.

He graduated from Miami Dade College with a degree in graphic design. There were no pending civil or criminal cases filed against him in Miami-Dade County courts.

Among the victims were an elderly couple who were the building's managers and four neighbors, including a 17-year-old girl who police say was shot while trying to hide in a bathtub.

Vargas also fired 10 to 20 shots into the street, killing a man who was walking home with his 9-year-old son whom he had just picked up from boxing practice, police said.

It was the worst Miami area shooting since 1982, when 51-year-old Carl Robert Brown killed nine and wounded three others with a pump-action shotgun after a dispute over a $20 lawnmower repair.

Vargas held a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Police gave no information on where he bought the gun or details from the two-page questionnaire on the permit's application. The police said he had no military background.

According to El Nuevo Herald, neighbors knew little of the man other than that he exercised often and was regularly seen wearing gym shorts and running shoes. Neighbors say he regularly took his 83-year-old mother to doctor's appointments.

The shooting started after Vargas set fire to his apartment as well as a large amount of cash. Vargas' mother told police it was $10,000 drawn from his savings account, though the amount remains unconfirmed.

"Much if not all was burned," Zogby said.

The tragedy in Hialeah was the latest in a string of mass shootings in the U.S. including Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 26 people including 20 young children at Sandy Hook Elementary in December.

The non-profit organization Sandy Hook Promise, formed by community members in Newtown, issued a statement on the Hialeah incident.

"Our hearts are broken," the statement said. "Our spirit is not. Sending prayers and condolences to the victims and families of the Hialeah, Florida mass shooting. Another tragedy that invites us all to reflect on what individual and collective changes we can make as a nation to save lives."

(This story was refiled to add dropped word in 3rd paragraph)

(Additional reporting by David Adams.; Editing by Eric Johnson, David Storey, Mary Wisniewski and Diane Craft)

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