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Miami gunman called 911 hours before shooting rampage

By Kevin Gray and Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - A man who shot and killed six people in a Miami-area apartment building called 911 hours beforehand and said he believed he was being followed and that someone was performing witchcraft on him, according to a copy of the call released on Wednesday.

A SWAT team stormed the apartment building in a raid early Saturday, killing the gunman, Pedro Alberto Vargas, after he set his apartment on fire, went on a shooting rampage and took two people hostage.

In a 12-minute 911 call released by police, Vargas asked an operator to check a license plate of a vehicle he said was outside of the building.

"There is a car parked outside and I'd like you to run a check because it doesn't belong to anyone who lives here," Vargas said.

He told the dispatcher he believed that someone was following him.

"Somebody is trying to do witchcraft against me," he said.

Police are trying to identify a motive in the shooting, the worst to hit the Miami area since 1982. The victims included an elderly couple who were the apartment building's managers and four neighbors, including a 17-year-old girl.

The call was placed about five hours before Vargas fired his first shot and provides some clues about his state of mind at the time.

Vargas, a 42-year-old graphic artist who arrived in the United States from Cuba six years ago, lived with his 83-year-old mother in an apartment in the Miami suburb of Hialeah.

Pressed by the dispatcher about who was behind the witchcraft, he responded, "a lawyer."

An attorney said on Wednesday that he questioned Vargas last week in connection with an investigation by Bullet Line, a promotional company where Vargas once worked.

The company was trying to determine the identity of a person who had sent abusive emails and text messages to several employees, the lawyer, Angel Castillo, said.

After initially denying he was responsible for the messages, Vargas admitted he sent them and later wrote an email to a company official apologizing. The company decided not to pursue any other legal action against Vargas, Castillo said.

"His messages were not threatening, but personally offensive and harassing," Castillo said in a statement.

Vargas returned to the lawyer's office three days later, more than an hour after he placed the 911 call. Castillo said he was not there at the time, but Vargas did not make any hostile or threatening remarks.

On Tuesday, a Miami college where Vargas once worked said he was forced to resign in 2008 from his job in the school's media services department after authorities found he downloaded files with links to bomb making and counterfeiting.

During the 911 call, an emergency operator requested to speak to Vargas' mother, Esperanza Patterson. She said her son suffered from emotional problems and appeared nervous.

Patterson said she slipped some medication in his food to calm him down and that she had encouraged Vargas to seek treatment with a psychiatrist.

"He is a good man," she said. "But he is traumatized."

Patterson told the operator Vargas left the apartment while she was on the phone.

Asked if she wanted police to come to the apartment as her son had requested, Patterson said no.

"He'll get angry," she said.

(Editing by Nick Zieminski; editing by Andrew Hay)

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