A gunman opened fire in a small Bank Hapoalim branch in Beersheba on Monday, killing four people before taking his own life.

The shooter, identified as 40-year-old Itamar Alon, had reportedly been turned down a day earlier by the bank when he tried to extend his credit line, because of a NIS 6,000 debt. After returning to the bank, he shot to death bank manager Avner Cohen and deputy manager Meir Zeitoun, shooting both multiple times before killing customers Anat Even-Haim and Idan Schnitzer Sabari.

Cohen, the bank’s branch manager, was 44 years old. He is survived by his wife and three children, aged six, 13 and 18. Prior to the shooting, he sent his aunt to another branch, and she said that saved her life.

Zeitun turned 40 last week.

Even-Haim was the mother of three children – an 11-year-old and four-year-old twins.

Sabari, a Beersheba resident, was 22 years old.

After killing his four victims, Alon then took employee Miriam Cohen hostage and dragged her into a bathroom, Cohen told Channel 10 on Monday evening.

Cohen said that she pleaded with the man not to harm her and that eventually he told her to turn around, at which point she heard a gunshot.

Once she realized that Alon had killed himself, she fled the bathroom into the arms of police outside the bank, Cohen told Channel 10.

She said that initially she thought the shoot-out was a terror attack, but after a few minutes, the assailant arrived and took her from the main area of the bank into the bathroom.

“I asked him, ‘Please don’t do anything to me,’ but he took me, he took me from there,” she said.

As the assailant took her to the bathroom, Cohen alerted the police to her presence.

“I took my phone and passed him so he wouldn’t hear me. I could not breathe; I hoped someone would come and save me.”

“I spoke to him; I said, ‘Please don’t hurt me, let’s leave.’ All the time I was talking to him and I pleaded with him to speak with the police.”

Cohen is now recovering from the incident in her family home.

Five people were injured in the shooting, including one seriously, and four were treated for shock, Soroka Hospital in Beersheba said.

There was no security guard at the bank, as it is a small branch.

Alon is a Beersheba resident who served in the Border Police for his national service, and reenlisted as an officer for an additional year. The Border Police spokesperson clarified shortly after the killing that Alon was “a citizen who served in the Border Patrol in the distant past, 17 years ago for only one year. We request that you consider this and present the incident as fits and not in a warped fashion that presents the force in a negative way.”



The incident is the third fatal shooting attack involving a current or former Border Police officer in the past seven months. Last October, a 48-year-old border policeman shot his ex-wife to death in their apartment in Bat Yam before shooting himself to death, and last Sunday a border policeman shot his wife to death before taking his own life, also in Bat Yam.

Further details of Alon’s life that emerged by Monday evening painted a picture of a man who had been involved in both personal and professional disputes, as well as a moment of heroism for which he was publicly hailed as a hero.

In 2011, Alon was involved in a dispute with his neighbors, during which he was arrested. Afterward, police asked a Beersheba court to strip him of his personal firearm, but the request was denied. Alon had been issued a permit for the gun for his job as a security guard for the Beersheba school system, and had kept the firearm even though he was fired from the job in 2003. After his termination, Alon attempted to sue the city of Beersheba, saying that he was terminated for “exposing corruption within the municipality.”

In an incident in 2002, Alon ran to the site of a terror attack at an IDF base in Beersheba, and shot and killed one of the terrorists. For his heroism, Alon was given a commendation by the city.

Following Monday’s shooting, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent his condolences to the families of those killed, and called the incident a huge tragedy and a “terror attack.”

“I can’t remember events like this – at least not in recent years. We can’t let a terror attack like this happen again,” he said.

“Something like this is so disgusting, we cannot just let it pass,” said Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman, adding that fighting crime is like fighting terror.

“We have to reach the right conclusions so these events don’t happen again,” Liberman said.

Sam Sokol and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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