TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — After a 51-day manhunt, police have made an arrest in four murders in the Seminole Heights area.
Late Tuesday night, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan and Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced the arrest of 24-year-old Howell Emanuel Donaldson III. Donaldson is charged with the murders of Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton.
Donaldson was taken into custody Tuesday afternoon at the McDonald’s restaurant he works at in Ybor City.
According to the arrest report, a Tampa police officer was at the McDonald’s when a worker came up and said Donaldson had given them a McDonald’s food bag with a .40 caliber Glock inside of it. The witness also told the officer Donaldson said he wanted to leave the state. During a news conference on Wednesday, Chief Dugan said he cannot thank that employee enough.
Donaldson had left the restaurant before police were notified, but returned and was detained by officers.
After being taken into custody, Donaldson gave officers permission to search his car and his phone and allowed them to examine his gun.
“Donaldson was cooperative, but would not tell us why he was doing this,” Chief Dugan said.
Donaldson told police he purchased the Glock firearm and ammunition from Shooter’s World on East Fletcher Avenue in September, according to the arrest report. He also told officers he was the only one with control of the firearm since the purchase.
“Donaldson admitted he owned the gun, but did not admit to the murders,” Dugan added.
During his conversation with officers, Donaldson said he was unfamiliar with the Seminole Heights neighborhood and didn’t have any association with anyone in the area.
When officers showed Donaldson evidence from the investigation that indicated his ties to the murders, Donaldson denied an explanation and requested an attorney’s presence.
Investigators who searched Donaldson’s cell phone found location data storage known as “significant locations.” The data revealed an address on East Frierson Avenue and indicated three days of recorded times and activities that correspond with when the first three murders happened.
Police say the three dates and times were Oct. 9 between 8:47 and 9:02 p.m, Oct. 11 between 8:18 and 8:42 p.m. and Oct. 19 between 7:51 and 7:58 p.m.
Call detail records were also obtained and showed that within minutes of the first three murders, Donaldson’s cell phone was geographically associated with cell towers in the area.
Officers searching Donaldson’s car found clothing similar to what was seen being worn by the suspect in surveillance video taken the night of the first murder. The arrest report says officers also found a suspected blood stain on the clothing.
FDLE officials who examined the gun said casings found at the scene of the first three murders were fired from the Glock firearm. The casings that were found at the fourth murder scene were not available, but police had previously identified them as being fired from the same gun as the first three murders. Police say the recovered Glock was loaded with a magazine containing five unfired rounds of SIG brand Smith and Wesson .40 caliber ammunition.
Investigators later discovered Donaldson had purchased the gun on Oct. 3 then picked it up on Oct. 7. He also bought a 20-round box of SIG brand Smith and Wesson ammunition on Oct. 7, according to arrest documents.
According to the arrest report, police found two fired SIG brand Smith and Wesson .40 caliber cartridge casings at the scene of Mitchell’s murder on Oct. 9. Mitchell was shot four times while waiting at a HART bus stop on North 15th Street near East Frierson Avenue.
Surveillance video was later released, showing a person walking in the area before the murder, then running from the scene within 25 seconds of the murder. A witness also called 911 right after the killing and told officers she saw a black male running away from the scene.
Two days later, on Oct. 11, police were called to North 11th Street near East Orleans Avenue for the report of gunshots in the area. Hoffa’s body was found Oct. 13 in an overgrown lot in the area. Police say she was shot three times and died. Five fired SIG brand Smith and Wesson .40 caliber cartridge casings were found at the scene.
According to new paperwork, one of Hoffa’s friends told police he was on his way to meet Hoffa on Oct. 11 around the same time the gunshots were reported. The friend said he never met up with her and never heard from her.
Naiboa was shot in the head and killed on Oct. 19, according to court paperwork. He was walking along North 15th Street when he was killed. Investigators found one SIG brand Smith and Wesson .40 caliber fired cartridge casing at the scene.
Almost a month later, Felton was shot and killed early in the morning on Nov. 14 while he was crossing North Nebraska Avenue. Police say they found four SIG brand Smith and Wesson .40 caliber fired cartridge casings at the scene.
A witness was able to describe the suspect in Felton’s murder as a black male about 6-feet tall with a thin, strong build. Police later released surveillance video from a nearby business.
Who is Howell Emanuel Donaldson III?
The man accused of terrorizing Seminole Heights for almost two months was born in North Carolina and grew up in Tampa.
Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, 24, who goes by Trai, was working at the McDonald’s in Ybor City when he was taken into custody on Tuesday.
Donaldson’s home address is about 20 minutes away from Seminole Heights.
He graduated from Alonso High School in 2011. He played guard on the varsity basketball team.
Alonso High School principal and basketball coach said they do not want to comment on their former player at this time.
St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y. told WFLA News Channel 8 that Donaldson attended the University beginning in the fall of 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,” the University said.
Donaldson worked at the Ultimate Medical Academy in Tampa in a customer support role. The company told WFLA News Channel 8 that he was employed from February 13 to May 2, 2017 and was terminated for absenteeism.
“Per UMA hiring policy, Donaldson passed a background check prior to employment,” the company said.
He has no previous criminal history in Florida, but he did have some traffic citations, records show. NBC reported that he was arrested in NYC in may of 2014 but details weren’t available.
Tampa police believe Donaldson is the person shown in the surveillance video released on Nov. 15 after Ronald Felton was killed.
He is accused of shooting four people to death between Oct. 9 and Nov. 14 in southeast Seminole Heights.
“We’re not sure why he was in this neighborhood. We’re not sure what his ties are or what motivated him,” Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said.
Donaldson is facing four counts of first-degree murder.
“I assure you, this is the person who did this,” Dugan said.