Arrest in Tampa killings
A man was charged in the four slayings that terrified Seminole Heights residents for weeks.
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.”
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.
Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, 24, has been charged with four counts of murder.