Se­rial-killer fear grips a Tampa neigh­bor­hood

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JON SILMAN AND AMY B WANG amy.wang@wash­post.com Wang re­ported from Wash­ing­ton. Cleve R. Wootson Jr. in Wash­ing­ton con­trib­uted to this re­port. More at wash­ing­tonpost.com/ news/ true-crime

Tampa po­lice on Tues­day in­ves­ti­gate the fourth re­cent fa­tal shoot­ing in the city’s Semi­nole Heights neigh­bor­hood. Three peo­ple were killed in an 11-day span last month, all in a one-mile ra­dius. Res­i­dents are shaken.

tampa — The re­prieve from the mys­te­ri­ous killings that have par­a­lyzed Semi­nole Heights lasted about a month.

The first three peo­ple were killed in an 11-day pe­riod — all within a one-mile ra­dius — in mid-Oc­to­ber. Po­lice knew of no mo­tive and had no de­tails about a pos­si­ble sus­pect. They warned res­i­dents not to walk alone at night. Foot traf­fic dried up. Res­i­dents stopped loung­ing on their porches. Hal­loween fes­tiv­i­ties pro­ceeded cau­tiously, with Tampa’s mayor and then-in­terim po­lice chief join­ing chil­dren to trick-or-treat as a show of faith in the com­mu­nity.

Fear sat­u­rated the neigh­bor­hood. There was talk of a se­rial killer.

Then, shortly be­fore 5 a.m. Tues­day, po­lice re­sponded to a shoot­ing call and found Ron­ald Fel­ton, 60, dead in the street just blocks from the other slay­ing lo­ca­tions. An­other vic­tim, seem­ingly at ran­dom. The fourth one.

“I know the big ques­tion’s go­ing to be: Is this re­lated to the other Semi­nole Heights mur­ders?” Tampa Po­lice Chief Brian Du­gan said. “And right now, we are treat­ing it as though it is re­lated un­til we can rule oth­er­wise.”

Fel­ton had been cross­ing Ne­braska Av­enue, one of the neigh­bor­hood’s main north-south thor­ough­fares, when a man came up from be­hind and shot him, Du­gan said.

Pre­vi­ously home­less, Fel­ton vol­un­teered twice a week with a food bank at the in­ter­sec­tion where he was found, Cyn­thia Mur­ray, 68, told the Tampa Bay Times. Fel­ton’s sis­ter de­scribed him as “a quiet, peace­ful per­son who would not bother any­one.” She also said she had warned her brother in re­cent weeks to be care­ful be­cause of the un­solved shoot­ings.

In con­trast to the three ear­lier killings, this time po­lice had a de­scrip­tion of the sus­pect, thanks to a wit­ness who heard a gun­shot and saw some­one run­ning from the scene on foot. The sus­pect was de­scribed as a black male with a light com­plex­ion, about 6 feet tall, with a thin build; he was dressed all in black and had a large pis­tol, po­lice said.

Du­gan told re­porters that he thinks the sus­pect lives in the neigh­bor­hood, and he urged res­i­dents to be vig­i­lant.

“This has got to stop, and we will hunt this per­son down un­til we’ve found them,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buck­horn said Tues­day.

In late Oc­to­ber, po­lice had re­leased sur­veil­lance video of a fig­ure run­ning from the scene of one of the ear­lier shoot­ings. In­ves­ti­ga­tors have not yet iden­ti­fied the per­son of in­ter­est in that video, and the footage is “very much still rel­e­vant” to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Tampa po­lice spokesman Eddy Durkin said.

Au­thor­i­ties said in­ves­ti­ga­tors have been work­ing non­stop to track the killer — or, per­haps, killers — since the first vic­tim was found dead Oct. 9. That was Ben­jamin Mitchell, an aspir­ing mu­si­cian and com­mu­nity col­lege stu­dent, who was shot while stand­ing alone at a bus stop, po­lice said.

Four days later, of­fi­cers dis­cov­ered the body of 32-year-old wait­ress Mon­ica Hoffa in a va­cant lot about 10 blocks from where Mitchell was found. On Oct. 19, po­lice found the body of An­thony Nai­boa, 20. Ac­cord­ing to his fa­ther, Nai­boa, who had a mild form of autism, had prob­a­bly boarded a dif­fer­ent bus af­ter his usual route was shut down. He was un­fa­mil­iar with Semi­nole Heights and was walk­ing home when he was killed, po­lice said.

The com­mon thread was the Route 9 bus, which me­an­ders on a north-south path from the Univer­sity of South Florida to down­town Tampa. The bus has since been rerouted, and of­fi­cials have taken other mea­sures to safe­guard the com­mu­nity.

“It’s been a very rough cou­ple of months,” Semi­nole Heights res­i­dent Re­nee Camp­bell said Tues­day. “We’ve had to change all of our pat­terns, if you will. We don’t walk the dog any­more twice a day. We don’t sit out­side as much as we used to. We used to sit on the front porch and chat af­ter din­ner. Now we do it in the back yard, if we go out at all.”

Camp­bell said she found out Tues­day morn­ing, on Face­book, that there had been a fourth shoot­ing, this time just a block from her home. As she tried to leave for work in the morn­ing, she said, she was stopped three times by po­lice of­fi­cers with ri­fles.

For much of the day Tues­day, po­lice locked down about a half­square-mile sec­tion of Semi­nole Heights and were go­ing door-todoor, can­vass­ing the neigh­bor­hood and talk­ing to res­i­dents and busi­ness own­ers.

Brent Stoehs, who has lived in the neigh­bor­hood for 13 years, woke up to the sound of a po­lice he­li­copter Tues­day morn­ing and said he thought: “Yep, an­other one.”

OC­TAVIO JONES/TAMPA BAY TIMES

OC­TAVIO JONES/TAMPA BAY TIMES

A Tampa po­lice of­fi­cer takes a bi­cy­cle into ev­i­dence Tues­day af­ter the fourth re­cent killing in the city’s Semi­nole Heights neigh­bor­hood. Po­lice found Ron­ald Fel­ton, 60, shot dead in the street.

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