SWEETWATER, Fla. (WSVN) – Police are investigating after, they said, a Florida International University student was shot and killed in an off-campus parking garage in Sweetwater, Friday night.
Police responded to the parking garage at the 4th Street Commons, located at 10899 S.W. 4th St.
According to Sweetwater Police, an individual was shot and died on the scene. Investigators later identified the victim as 21-year-old Michael Zaldua.
The victim’s family is asking for the community’s prayers as they prepare for his funeral.
Witnesses told detectives they heard gunshots echo from inside the parking garage, and when they went to check it out, they found Zaldua.
The shooting reportedly took place on the third floor of the parking garage, which adjoins a student apartment complex, located a few blocks away from the Modesto Maidique Campus.
Most of the residents of the complex are students. One of them, who said he knew the victim, said he got a text message regarding the situation.
“Got a text message that there was an incident in the garage,” said one resident, “and when I went to check out to make sure that my car was fine, I spoke with some people in the elevator, and I was told that a gentleman was shot in the head twice, and they found money all over his car.”
Sweetwater Police contained the scene; however, Miami-Dade Police have now taken over the investigation.
Police have also ruled out that the shooting was a suicide. With a gunman on the loose, detectives worked overnight, processing the scene and searching for clues that could lead them to a suspect.
Friends of the victim said he didn’t live in the building. “Great kid, always had a smile on his face, had nothing negative to say,” DiCarlo said, “just a great kid. It’s very unfortunate.”
In a statement released Saturday, FIU officials confirmed Zaldua was a student. It read in part, “Miami-Dade Police are investigating a death that occurred late Friday evening at the 4th Street Commons in the City of Sweetwater. We are saddened to report that the victim is an FIU student. Police are in the process of notifying next of kin. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the victim. The university will be offering support to students who feel impacted by this tragedy.”
Zaldua grew up in the area, attending Ronald W. Reagan Doral High School before enrolling at FIU. Saturday afternoon, friends and neighbors reacted to Zaldua’s death. “He was a really good kid, very passionate about business, everything,” said neighbor Johanna Romero. “It’s very unfortunate that he passed.”
7News cameras captured a heavy police presence outside the complex, Saturday night.
“They just make sure that, if you live there, you’re supposed to be there, and if you don’t have a key to get into the elevator, you don’t get in,” said student Melissa Helphrey.
Neighbors of Zaldua, in Doral, said the victim, a budding photographer, was a kind person. “Always very kind. Very courteous, always ‘Hi, ma’am,'” said one woman. “I’m shocked that something like this could happen.”
FIU officials urged students to always remain vigilant. “You just need to be aware of surroundings at all time,” said student Henry Gines, “know what’s going on around you and be prepared to run if anything.”
Students said they want security at the complex tightened to keep this from happening again. “I just had someone right now [ask me], ‘Hey, can I use your key to go upstairs?'” said Helphrey, “and you don’t even know if they live here.”
“In this crazy world that we live in, unfortunately, it’s horrible to hear, but if it can happen in a place like this, it can happen anywhere,” said a resident.
FIU counselors have been on hand for anyone who would like to talk about the tragic situation.
Police do not have anyone in custody at this time.
A spokesperson from the apartment complex said they have since increased the amount of courtesy officers on the property and will control access to the second and third floor of the garage, where the shooting occurred.
A GoFundMe account has been established to help his family with funeral expenses: www.gofundme.com/micheal-zaldua.
If you have any information on this shooting, call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS. Remember, you can always remain anonymous, and you may be eligible for a $1,000 reward.
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