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Police arrest man connected to series of killings in Tampa

TAMPA, Fla.  — Tampa Police say they have arrested a 24-year-old man in connection with four fatal shootings in the city's Seminole Heights neighborhood.The charging documents are still being crafted for Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, who will face four counts of first-degree murder, said Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan in a late night press briefing Tuesday. But Dugan said police wanted to get the news out to assure the residents of Seminole Heights.

Howell Emanuel Donaldson was arrested in connection with four fatal shootings in Tampa.

For 51 days, the neighborhood has been on edge after four seemingly random killings. The victims were killed while doing ordinary things, like waiting at a bus stop and crossing the street.

"The real goal is to let the people of Seminole Heights be able to get a good night's sleep," Dugan said late Tuesday. "It's been 51 days that they've been terrorized in their neighborhood and it is about letting these families know that we're going to bring this person to justice, and letting this neighborhood get some rest."

Police say there doesn't seem to be a connection between his four alleged victims, but they were all shot within a half-mile of each other.

Dugan said he couldn't answer many of the reporters' questions, because the investigation is ongoing.

Earlier in the day, Tampa Police received a tip around 2:40 p.m. about a man who had a gun in a bag at a local McDonald's. Police confiscated the weapon and detained Donaldson to learn more about the gun and any possible connection to the killings.

"We're still trying to figure out this person's ties to the neighborhood," Dugan said. "We're not sure why he was in this neighborhood or what his motive is. There's still a lot more to go in this investigation."

Donaldson is in police custody, said Eddy Durkin, Tampa Police Department spokesman.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who had visited Seminole Heights last week, said he had seen "firsthand the pain that these crimes have caused across the community."

"In Florida, we have absolutely zero tolerance for this type of evil behavior and anyone responsible will be held to the fullest extent of the law," he said in a statement.

The victims

The four seemingly unconnected victims in Seminole Heights were each killed -- but not robbed -- while walking alone at night within a half-mile area, police said.

  • Benjamin Mitchell, 22, a full-time student at Hillsborough Community College, was shot and killed at a bus stop in the Seminole Heights neighborhood October 9.
  • Monica Hoffa, 32, a waitress, was shot and killed October 11. Her body was found two days later in a vacant parking lot.
  • Anthony Naiboa, 20, who had autism and had just started a temporary job packing relief supplies for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, was shot October 19 when he accidentally got on the wrong bus and ended up in Seminole Heights.
  • Ronald Felton, 60, who worked in construction and had three grown children, was shot in the back on November 14.

Officials have said the killings in October and November are connected in their methodology, leading to fears that a serial killer is on the loose. But officials said they are not calling the suspect a serial killer.

In late October, Dugan released blurry video of a "person of interest" wearing a hooded jacket casually walking down a street near one of the killings.

The police chief released new video about two weeks ago showing a similar-looking person with the same gait who was present near the last shooting of Felton. The person in the video, Dugan said then, had become a suspect.

Based on a witness statement, Dugan initially described the suspect as a black male between 6 feet and 6 feet 2 inches with a thin build and a light complexion. The surveillance images were in black and white.

The suspect was wearing all black and a black baseball cap and armed with a large black pistol, police said.

Police received more than 5,000 tips.

In the past month, officers have swarmed the tree-lined neighborhood, advising residents not to go outside alone, to be alert and keep their porch lights on. Some residents stopped walking their dogs, running outside or waiting at the bus stop alone.

Dugan thanked the Seminole Heights community members, saying they had been "phenomenal in their support of our police department. It's been their patience and their support in the way they've rallied behind the cops of Tampa."

PIX11 News has learned Donaldson spent many years in New York City.  His LinkedIn profile lists him attending St. Johns University from 2011-2016, majoring in sports marketing, and he was on the roster for the Red Storm basketball team.

In a statement to PIX11, St. John's University confirms that Donaldson attended the school beginning in Fall 2011 and graduated in January 2017.  "He was a walk-on student-athlete for the men's basketball team during the 2011-2012 season, but never played in a game."

In 2016, Donaldson reportedly also rubbed elbows with VIPs at Citi Field, working as a guest relations host for New York Mets fans.

Then last January he moved back to Tampa, and his life may have taken a dark turn.

During his time here, the NYPD arrested him in May 2014, but his case has been sealed.

PIX11's Anthony DiLorenzo contributed to this report.