Arrest made; one man charged in 4 Seminole Heights murders
TAMPA (FOX 13) - The Tampa Police Department says it is charging Howell E. Donaldson, III with four counts of murder in four shooting deaths in Seminole Heights.
Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan, flanked by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and several community leaders, made the announcement after a break in the case Tuesday.
In a press conference Tuesday night, the chief opened with a summation of all four murders, the first of which was 51 days ago.
He continued to say an arrest was being made after his team spent Tuesday investigating a tip that led them to a McDonald's restaurant in Ybor City.
It began when an officer was approached by one of Donaldson's coworkers about a gun at their place of work, the McDonald's in Ybor City.
According to Donaldson's arrest affidavit, he handed his coworker a McDonald's food bag. Inside was a .40 caliber Glock firearm loaded with SIG brand Smith and Wesson ammunition. Donaldson also said he wanted to leave the state.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and ATF analyzed the fired cartridge casings in all four murder scenes and identified the casings were fired in the same firearm: a Glock .40 caliber handgun, according to the affidavit. Authorities say the firearm was lawfully purchased at Shooter's World, located at 116 East Fletcher Avenue, on October 3. He picked it up on October 7 due to a mandatory waiting period.
While detained, Donaldson told detectives no one else besides himself had control of the gun since the purchase. He also said he was "unfamiliar with the area identified as the Seminole Heights neighborhood, and he did not have any association with anyone in the area," per the affidavit.
Donaldson granted permission for authorities to search his vehicle and cell phone. In his vehicle, were clothing, similar to the clothing worn by a subject in surveillance video captured on October 9 -- when the first murder occurred -- were found. There is also a suspected blood stain on the clothes.
Through location data discovered on his phone indicated he was within the 1300 block of East Frierson Avenue on October 9, 11, and 19, and the times his phone pings to a nearby cell phone tower correspond with the times of the first three murders.
When confronted with the evidence, Donaldson denied giving an explanation and requested an attorney.
It appears Donaldson has a clean criminal record in the state of Florida. His affidavit indicates he was born in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The chief said earlier in the day he was "optimistic" that the Ybor City investigation could be connected to the recent string of homicides in the Seminole Heights area.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn praised TPD and other law enforcement for their hard work in the case.
"Tonight will be the beginning of when justice will be served," Buckhorn said.
The view of the McDonald's from SkyFOX showed police officers and their vehicles surrounding a red Ford Mustang parked at the East 13th Avenue restaurant. FOX 13's Haley Hinds reports police put up yellow crime scene tape. Officers also blocked off a wider area of the parking lot surrounding the vehicle, with other parked cars inside the perimeter.
Police took the Mustang's driver, later revealed to be Donaldson, into custody and recovered a gun in the process.
Donaldson now faces four counts of first degree murder in the deaths of Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa, and Ronald Felton.
Mitchell, Hoffa, and Naiboa were all killed within a few blocks of one another just days apart.
Felton was killed two weeks ago.
Police have maintained since early on, the four killings were connected.
"It's going to be a long night," Chief Brian Dugan said after Donaldson was first taken into custody.
At the press conference that night, the chief was not able to release details about detectives' questioning of Donaldson or what he may have told them.
There were few details about Donaldson's past.
Stay with FOX 13 News for more on this developing story.