Po­lice hunt killer af­ter 4th slay­ing in Tampa

The Mercury News - - News - By Tamara Lush

TAMPA, FLA. >> Po­lice and fed­eral agents with ri­fles checked car trunks, banged on doors and gath­ered foren­sic ev­i­dence in a Tampa neigh­bor­hood Tues­day as they hunted for the killer be­lieved re­spon­si­ble for gun­ning down four peo­ple for no ap­par­ent rea­son in just over a month.

The nor­mally quiet, work­ing-class Semi­nole Heights sec­tion of bun­ga­lows and palm trees was sealed off with yel­low crime-scene tape af­ter the lat­est killing in the neigh­bor­hood — that of a 60-year-old man who was shot from be­hind as he crossed a street shortly af­ter 5 a.m.

In­terim Tampa Po­lice Chief Brian Du­gan said it is ex­tremely pos­si­ble that the killer — or killers — live in the neigh­bor­hood.

“Who­ever is do­ing it, they’re fa­mil­iar with the neigh­bor­hood and they’re able to van­ish very quickly,” Du­gan said.

Res­i­dents and po­lice have been on edge since Oct. 9, when 22-year-old Ben­jamin Mitchell was shot to death. Two days later, 32-year-old Mon­ica Hoffa, was slain. And on Oct. 19, An­thony Nai­boa, 20, was killed af­ter tak­ing the wrong bus home from his new job.

On Tues­day, Ron­ald Fel­ton, an un­em­ployed con­struc­tion worker who vol­un­teered at a food bank, was gunned down.

Po­lice cars with flash­ing lights sat at dozens of in­ter­sec­tions, and one ma­jor thor­ough­fare was en­tirely shut down for much of the day. Law en­force­ment took over the park­ing lot at a Bap­tist church, and a fed­eral Bureau of Al­co­hol, Tobacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives bus was parked at the makeshift com­mand cen­ter. Law of­fi­cers ques­tioned peo­ple and took down cell num­bers.

“This was a very de­cent neigh­bor­hood un­til the last cou­ple of months,” sighed Sherry Street, 50, a cook who has lived in the area for seven years. “Up un­til re­cently I used to ac­ci­den­tally fall asleep with the door un­locked.”

Street said she has stopped walk­ing to the store, tak­ing the bus or sit­ting out­side to smoke at night. Her friends would of­ten stop by and hang out on her porch to talk, but “now they’re like, ‘I’m not com­ing to see you.’”

Her neigh­bors have also changed their rou­tines. Gone were the Hal­loween dec­o­ra­tions of years past. Gone are the dog walk­ers. And the young woman with the beau­ti­ful red­headed twin girls — Street hasn’t seen them in weeks.

“At 7 o’clock you can come

out this door and you won’t hear a sound,” she said.

All of Oc­to­ber’s vic­tims were ei­ther get­ting on or off a city bus, or were at a bus stop, when they were shot, po­lice said. It was un­clear if Tues­day’s vic­tim was near a bus stop.

“When I first di­vorced

and moved here, I stayed in some pretty rough ar­eas. But I’ve never seen any­thing like this. Maybe I need to con­sider mov­ing,” Street said, shak­ing her head. “It’s some crazy per­son. That’s all you can ex­plain it. Be­cause why? They’re just tar­get­ing in­no­cent peo­ple and shoot­ing them.”

Po­lice gained a bet­ter de­scrip­tion of the sus­pect af­ter the fourth killing, say­ing a wit­ness de­scribed him as a black male, 6 feet to 6-foot-2, with a thin build and light com­plex­ion. He had a large black pis­tol and was last seen all in black.

Pre­vi­ously, of­fi­cers didn’t have much to go on other than a grainy black-and­white video of a per­son run­ning near one of the crime scenes.

Bryanna Fox, a crim­i­nol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of South Florida in Tampa, said it is un­usual for a se­rial killer to use a gun.

“A lot of se­rial killers pre­fer other meth­ods such as knives or stran­gu­la­tion,” she said. “Those tend to be more one-on-one, and that’s what most se­rial killers pre­fer, a more in­ti­mate ex­pe­ri­ence.”

OCTAVIO JONES — TAMPA BAY TIMES VIA AP

Law en­force­ment agents in­ves­ti­gate a fa­tal shoot­ing in the Semi­nole Heights neigh­bor­hood in Tampa, Florida, Tues­day.

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