Ar­rest in Tampa killings

A man was charged in the four slay­ings that ter­ri­fied Semi­nole Heights res­i­dents for weeks.

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY AMY B WANG AND ELI ROSEN­BERG amy.wang@wash­post.com eli.rosen­berg@wash­post.com

Au­thor­i­ties in Tampa said they hoped that res­i­dents of the Semi­nole Heights neigh­bor­hood would be able to en­joy a good night’s sleep for the first time in weeks af­ter po­lice ar­rested a man al­legedly re­spon­si­ble for a se­ries of mys­te­ri­ous slay­ings that be­gan there in early Oc­to­ber.

The shoot­ings left four peo­ple dead and ter­ri­fied res­i­dents of the his­toric, bun­ga­low-filled neigh­bor­hood in cen­tral Tampa, which ef­fec­tively locked it­self down at night amid fears of ran­dom at­tacks and talk of a se­rial killer.

Po­lice ques­tioned How­ell Emanuel Don­ald­son III on Tues­day af­ter an em­ployee at a lo­cal McDon­ald’s re­ported that Don­ald­son had brought a gun to the fast-food restau­rant, about two miles south of where the killings took place. Within hours, the 24year-old Tampa res­i­dent was ar­rested.

Don­ald­son was charged Wed­nes­day with four counts of first-de­gree mur­der in con­nec­tion with the four fa­tal shoot­ings and booked into the Hills­bor­ough County jail, where he is be­ing held with­out bond.

“I as­sure you this is the man who did this,” Tampa Po­lice Chief Brian Du­gan told re­porters at a news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

Du­gan said Don­ald­son ap­par­ently worked at the McDon­ald’s and had given his co-worker a gun in a fast-food bag. That em­ployee con­tacted po­lice shortly af­ter­ward, and the gun was found, through shell cas­ings, to be linked to all four shoot­ings, po­lice said.

“I can­not thank them enough for stand­ing up and do­ing the right thing ... say­ing: ‘ This doesn’t seem right. Why does this per­son have a gun in a bag?’ ” Du­gan said.

Don­ald­son ad­mit­ted to own­ing the gun but did not ad­mit to the shoot­ings or indi­cate any mo­tive for why he would have killed four ap­par­ent strangers, Du­gan said. Don­ald­son seemed “laid back” and “re­laxed” dur­ing his ar­rest.

“He was co­op­er­a­tive, but he did not tell us why he was do­ing this,” Du­gan said. “We were re­ally hop­ing to find out what was driv­ing him to do this. We don’t have those an­swers yet.”

The case had stymied au­thor­i­ties for weeks. The first three peo­ple were killed in an 11-day pe­riod, all within a one-mile ra­dius, with no ap­par­ent con­nec­tions be­tween them.

Ben­jamin Mitchell, an aspiring mu­si­cian and com­mu­nity col­lege stu­dent, was shot while stand­ing at a bus stop Oct. 9.

Mon­ica Hoffa, a 32-year-old wait­ress, was shot two days later.

On Oct. 19, An­thony Nai­boa, a 20-year-old with what his fam­ily said was a mild form of autism, was walk­ing home when he was killed nearby, po­lice said.

Then, there was a re­prieve that lasted 26 days, be­fore po­lice re­sponded to a shoot­ing call on Nov. 14 and found Ron­ald Fel­ton, 60, dead in the street, blocks from where the other killings oc­curred.

An­other vic­tim, the fourth, seem­ingly at ran­dom.

The vic­tims did not ap­pear to be con­nected to one an­other by age, race or other de­mo­graph­ics. The only com­mon factor was that the crimes all took place within a few miles of one an­other in the Semi­nole Heights neigh­bor­hood.

There, res­i­dents ad­justed their daily rou­tines. Foot traf­fic dried up. Peo­ple stopped loung­ing on their porches.

Au­thor­i­ties an­nounced the ar­rest late Tues­day while of­fer­ing lit­tle in­for­ma­tion; Du­gan said po­lice wanted to an­nounce the ar­rest for the sake of the neigh­bor­hood.

“We knew by com­ing out here tonight we’d prob­a­bly cre­ate a lot more ques­tions,” Du­gan told re­porters Tues­day. “But the real goal is to let the peo­ple of Semi­nole Heights be able to get a good night’s sleep. It’s been 51 days that they’ve been ter­ror­ized in their neigh­bor­hood.”

Du­gan re­it­er­ated Wed­nes­day that the po­lice did not yet know what, if any, con­nec­tion Don­ald­son has with the neigh­bor­hood. He was re­port­edly “un­fa­mil­iar with the area . . . and did not have any as­so­ci­a­tion with any­one in the area,” ac­cord­ing to a po­lice re­port ob­tained by the Tampa Bay Times.

The ar­rest re­port also noted that Don­ald­son’s Glock hand­gun had a loaded mag­a­zine with five rounds of SIG brand Smith & Wes­son .40-cal­iber am­mu­ni­tion. Don­ald­son told po­lice that “no one ex­cept for him­self had con­trol of the Glock firearm since his pur­chase,” ac­cord­ing to the re­port. Don­ald­son ob­tained the gun legally, Du­gan said.

A per­son who picked up the phone at the McDon­ald’s where Don­ald­son worked said the man­ager of the restau­rant was un­avail­able for com­ment.

An ad­dress listed for Don­ald­son in­di­cated that he lived about 10 miles east of Semi­nole Heights. He had grad­u­ated from St. John’s Univer­sity in New York in Jan­uary, af­ter en­rolling in the fall of 2011, a spokesman for the school said. The school rep­re­sen­ta­tive also said that Don­ald­son was a walk-on ath­lete for the St. John’s men’s basketball team dur­ing the 2011-2012 sea­son but never played in a game.

Po­lice still need to ex­am­ine items found in Don­ald­son’s car, in­clud­ing a hoodie that seemed to match one that ap­peared in sur­veil­lance cam­era video from the first shoot­ing, Du­gan said.

“The work re­ally be­gins now,” Du­gan said. “This morn­ing is, I think, when it hit me, like, we ac­tu­ally got this guy. . . . To start off as the chief of po­lice and to have four un­solved homi­cides on your watch, that’s a tough pill to swal­low. That is some­thing I’ll carry for the rest of my life.”

Robert Hoffa, Mon­ica Hoffa’s un­cle, thanked po­lice at a news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day for help­ing bring the or­deal to an end.

“I’m sure we have a lot of peo­ple in this com­mu­nity who are able to sleep now,” he said. “Ben­jamin, Mon­ica, An­thony, Ron­ald: We will not let their names die in vain.”

WILL VRAGOVIC/TAMPA BAY TIMES/ASSOCIATED PRESS

GABRIELLA ANGOTTI-JONES/TAMPA BAY TIMES/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Po­lice of­fi­cers search a car for ev­i­dence in a McDon­ald’s park­ing lot in Tampa on Tues­day. The sus­pect in four slay­ings worked at the fast­food restau­rant, which is lo­cated about two miles south of the neigh­bor­hood where the killings oc­curred.

TAMPA PO­LICE DEPART­MENT/ASSOCIATED PRESS

How­ell Emanuel Don­ald­son III, 24, has been charged with four counts of mur­der.

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