For 51 days a serial killer terrorized people in Seminole Heights, a downtown neighborhood in the city of Tampa, Florida. Over that time the a killer murdered four people, seemingly at random. The victims were doing ordinary things when they were shot and had no apparent connection to one another. From the NY Times:
The killings, stretching from Oct. 9 to Nov. 14, cast a pall over Seminole Heights and much of Tampa, as frightened residents stayed indoors, restaurants and stores turned desolate, and legions of city, county and state law enforcement officers patrolled the streets and helped sift through leads, with federal law enforcement agencies aiding in the investigation. The police received more than 5,000 tips connected to the case…
The ordeal began on the night of Oct. 9, when Benjamin Mitchell, 22, was shot four times at a bus stop. Four days later, Ms. Hoffa, 32, was found dead in an overgrown vacant lot a few blocks away, two days after she had been shot three times.
Investigators soon concluded that the same gun was used in both killings, and understood that a serial killer might be on the loose. The police made a public statement that the killings were related, and warned people to be alert and not to walk alone at night.
As the fear lingered over the neighborhood, money was raised by local business owners as a reward for information leading to the killer’s arrest. Tuesday, police arrested 24-year-old Howell Emanuel Donaldson III at a McDonald’s restaurant where he had been working. Donaldson’s arrest came about after he handed coworker Delonda Walker a McDonald’s bag containing a gun and asked her to hold onto it for him while he went out.
Walker peeked in the bag and saw the gun. She noticed there was a Tampa police officer sitting in the restaurant doing paperwork and brought the bag to him. He immediately called for backup and when Donaldson returned to the restaurant he was arrested. CNN reports he has now been charged with four counts of murder:
Donaldson admitted that he owned the gun but did not admit to the killings, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said, but police are convinced that they finally caught the person responsible.
“We’ve had other guns, but we knew this was the one,” Dugan said. “Now the work begins to shore up the case and get a full prosecution.”
The gun has been tied to three of the murders so far and Donaldson has admitted he purchased the gun and never lost it since buying it. Clothes matching the description of the shooter were found in his car and a search of his cell phone also indicated he was near the scene of at least 3 of the murders, so this seems like it could be a fairly easy case to prove to a jury. As for why Donaldson did it, that’s still a mystery. He apparently hasn’t given police any clear indication of a motive for what still appear to be random shootings of strangers.
The Tampa Bay Times reports today that family members of one of the victims will be going to McDonald’s to thank Walker in person.
[Casimar] Naiboa, whose son Anthony, 20, became the third of four victims when he was gunned down Oct. 19, said he and his family want to personally deliver their gratitude to Walker tonight.
“We want to thank the manager for having open eyes,” Naiboa said. “Her awareness helps to bring closure to us.”
Were it not for Walker’s actions, “we could [have] been more devastated,” he said. “She took a weight off our minds. This person maybe could have thrown the gun away and left Florida. She was a really big part of helping.”
Police aren’t saying yet whether Delonda Walker will receive the $110,000 in reward money that was pledged toward the capture of the killer. But local businessman Richard Gonzmart went to the McDonald’s Wednesday and hand-delivered a check covering his pledge toward the total reward. From the Tampa Bay Times:
The McDonald’s worker has already received $9,000 of the reward after restaurant owner Richard Gonzmart stopped by the restaurant to hand her a personal check on Wednesday…
“I didn’t want to wait for anybody to decide (about the reward) because I made that commitment, and when I give my word, I’m going to do something.”
A camera crew followed Gonzmart as he went to deliver the check. Walker never appears on camera, but after meeting with her, Gonzmart breaks into tears praising her as a hero and saying “we got this monster off the street thanks to her.” Gonzmart, who runs a local restaurant, said he will invite the manager to his business for a VIP dinner. Here’s the clip: