Serial-killer fear grips a Tampa neighborhood
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.”
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.