Police are sure they have arrested the killer who has been sending terror through the community of Seminole Heights.
During a pair of press conferences Wednesday morning, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said they were glad to have someone in custody and that “the good guys” could put one in the win column.
“Today, the good guys won. Today, Seminole Heights can sleep. Today we begin the healing process,” Mayor Buckhorn said.
Chief Dugan was confident they have arrested the man responsible for the killings.
So confident, he said, “This is the only arrest. He did it, that’s the way it goes.”
Tuesday afternoon, Tampa police arrested 24-year-old Howell Emanuel Donaldson III and charged him with four counts of murder.
Police received a tip around 2:40 p.m. that a patron at a Ybor City McDonald’s had a gun in a bag inside the restaurant. Spectrum Bay News 9 reported a co-worker of Donaldson’s, who also worked at the fast-food restaurant, approached police with the tip. The co-worker told the officer that Donaldson handed him the bag and said he was going to leave Florida.
When police looked inside the bag, they found a loaded .40-caliber Glock, according to an arrest affidavit. It was the same type of weapon used in all four murders.
Donaldson had left the area but later returned. That’s when police identified him and took him in for questioning about the gun.
The ammunition found inside the gun matched the casings found at all four murder scenes, according to the affidavit.
Dugan said Donaldson admitted to owning the gun but did not admit to any of the killings.
Donaldson bought the gun and a 20-round box of bullets from Shooter’s World in Tampa on Oct. 3. He picked it up after the four-day waiting period and the first killing happened two days after that.
Detective Austin Hill wrote in a police report that Donaldson told investigators “no one, except for himself had control of the Glock firearm since his purchase.”
By Tuesday night, after hours of interviews and gathering evidence, investigators were ready to annouce that Donaldson would face four counts of first-degree murder.
“Tonight is the beginning of when justice will be served,” Buckhorn said at an 11 p.m. news conference Tuesday to announce the arrest.
On Wednesday morning, when asked what the punishment should be, Buckhorn told reporters: “If he is found to be guilty, then he should die. It’s that simple.”
During a search of Donaldson’s vehicle, police found more evidence they said ties him to the killings.
Clothing that appeared similar to that seen in surveillance footage on the night of one of the murders was found, and one article of clothing appeared to have a suspected blood stain, according to the affidavit.
Police also obtained Donaldson’s cellphone records and found that within minutes of slayings on Oct. 9, 11, and 19, his phone was “geographically associated with the AT&T cell tower providing coverage for the areas that include all the homicide locations,” the affidavit stated.
During a visit to Tampa Wednesday morning, Gov. Rick Scott said he was “so happy” and “very thankful” police were able to make an arrest.
Chief Dugan also took the opportunity to praise the Seminole Heights community for its support during the investigation, which lasted 51 days.
Mostly, officials gathered at the early morning press conference were just glad the McDonald’s employee came forward with the tip.
“We needed that bit of information,” Dugan said. After that, he said, things started to fall into place for the investigation.
In a statement, the State Attorney’s Office commended the police department for its work and the community members who provided information to officers.
“We appreciate the community’s trust as we work hard to achieve justice for the victims, their families, and our entire community,” the statement read.
Authorities said they received more than 5,000 tips since the murders were announced. Meanwhile, the reward for information leading to an arrest grew to $100,000, and police increased their presence in the area at all hours.
Tampa police were assisted by several other agencies including ATF, FBI, Florida Highway Patrol, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
However, officials are still missing a motive for the killings.
Dugan said Donaldson did not provide a reasoning for the shootings during interviews with investigators.
Police have also not yet been able to determine Donaldson’s connection to the Seminole Heights neighborhood.
Donaldson told police after he was detained that he was not familiar with the Seminole Heights area and didn’t associate with anyone in the neighborhood, according to the arrest affidavit. Police have repeatedly said they believe the suspect was familiar with the area.
Police are also questioning why Donaldson gave the bag with the gun inside to the McDonald’s employee.
“I don’t think he wanted to get caught,” Dugan said.
Benjamin Mitchell, 22 was killed at approximately 9 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 9.
Monica Hoffa, 32, was shot on Wednesday, Oct. 11, and her body was found two days later.
Anthony Naiboa, 20, was shot at approximately 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 19.
Ronald Felton, 60, was shot at approximately 4:51 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 14.
“I am overjoyed right now. I am shaking right now because like I should be, my hands are sweaty, I am just very joyed that we caught this killer and got him off the streets,” Robert Hoffa, Monica’s uncle told WFLA.
During a press conference, Hoffa thanked local law enforcement for making an arrest.
Naiboa’s father also took a moment to thank investigators.
In an emotional scene after the press conference, family members took a moment to embrace and thank law enforcement.
Who is Donaldson?
Citing an arrest affidavit, WTSP reports Donaldson was born in Charlotte, N.C., but graduated form Alonso High School in Tampa.
Donaldson graduated from St. John’s University in New York in January 2017, according to school spokesman Brian Browne. He was a walk-on for the men’s basketball team during the 2011-12 season, but never played in a game, Browne said.
After graduating, he worked in customer support at the Ultimate Medical Academy, a school that trains workers for health care jobs. He started there Feb. 13 and worked for about three months before he was fired for absenteeism. The academy said he passed a background check before he was hired.
His LinkedIn account also listed a job as a “guest experience host” for the New York Mets in 2016. The Mets would neither confirm nor deny that he was employed by them.
Police in New York said Donaldson had been arrested in May 2014, but the arrest was sealed and no details were available. Authorities there said they review cold cases to see if Donaldson could be linked to any crimes there.
He was a crew chief at the McDonald’s when he was arrested. The tip that led police to him came from one of his co-workers at an Ybor City McDonalds, which is near the Seminole Heights neighborhood.
His home is about 20 minutes from Seminole Heights, according to WFLA. Donaldson does not have a criminal history, but did have traffic citations.
“We’re good. The sun is shining. Tampa is ready to move on,” Buckhorn said.
“It’s a good feeling for us, it’s a happy day,” Dugan said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report