After receiving more than 5,000 tips, Tampa police have arrested a suspect in the serial killings that have left the city in fear for the last 51 days.
Authorities announced late Tuesday night that they have arrested a 24-year-old McDonald’s employee in connection with four murders that took place in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa.
Howell Emanuel Donaldson III – who goes by Trai – will face four counts of first-degree murder, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan told reporters Tuesday night during a press conference just prior to Donaldson’s official arrest.
“I am pleased to announce that tonight we will be making an arrest in the Seminole Heights murder,” Dugan said.
Dugan said his officers would soon be charging Donaldson but would not say if the 24-year-old had confessed to the murders or if he’d been cooperating with police.
“Unfortunately, I will not have the answers that you want,” he said. “This is an ongoing situation.”
As for Donaldson’s alleged motive in the killings, Dugan said, “We’re not sure why he was in this neighborhood. We’re not sure what his ties are or what motivated him.”
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told reporters, “Tonight, goodness has won. Tonight in the battle between darkness and light, light has won.”
The Tampa Bay Times reported Donaldson handed a McDonald’s manager the gun Tuesday afternoon and left the restaurant to visit an Amscot to get a payday loan. When Donaldson returned he found Tampa police waiting for him.
Gail Rogers, who works at the Ybor City McDonald’s were Donaldson was taken into custody, told the newspaper that he had been working there for two months. Police have not confirmed this. She said she huddled with the manager and told him to alert a police officer sitting inside the restaurant.
Once they alerted the police, backup was called in.
For 51 days, Seminole Heights was terrorized by four killings of people who seem to have no apparent link to each other. They were fatally shot within a half-mile of each other. Police believe the killings are related.
The first victim, 22-year-old Benjamin Mitchell, was fatally shot at approximately 9 p.m on Oct. 9 while waiting at a bus stop near his home. He was alone at the time. A police spokesperson said in a press conference that he was “a good person from a good family.”
Two days later, Monica Caridad Hoffa, 32, was shot and killed ten blocks away. Her body was found in a grassy plot of city-owned land. “Her life was taken from her with no motive,” her family wrote in an online obituary.
On Oct. 19, the third victim, Anthony Taino Naiboa, was shot just 100 yards away from where Mitchell was killed. Naiboa, 20, had autism and had accidentally taken the wrong bus home from work. At a vigil for Naiboa after his death, his father, Anthony, shared his anguish. “They killed him just for nothing,” he told the mourners. “Like he’s not a human, like he’s nothing.”
In November, a fourth victim, 60-year-old Ronald Felton, was found just after 5 a.m. just blocks from where the three other shootings occurred.
Buckhorn praised law enforcement officials who, he said, dedicated their time and energy to catching the suspect.
“They focused on one thing,” he said. “and that was to catch a killer.”