TAMPA, Fla. (CN) – Police arrested a 24-year-old man Tuesday and said they will charge him with murder in a string of killings that have terrorized a Tampa neighborhood.
Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan announced at a news conference that Howell Emanuel Donaldson, 24, will be charged with four counts of first-degree murder.
The killings, seemingly random and occurring within blocks of one another, sparked a citywide manhunt that included local law enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and even patrols by the Guardian Angels.
“Fifty-one days ago, I said this was a struggle between good and evil,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said at a second new conference Tuesday evening. “Well, tonight, goodness has won.”
The tip that led police to Donaldson came from one of his co-workers at an Ybor City McDonalds, which is near the Seminole Heights neighborhood that has seen four fatal shootings since early October.
Area news outlets reported that Donaldson asked an employee at the restaurant to hold a bag with a loaded semiautomatic gun on Tuesday afternoon while he went to a nearby business to get a payday loan.
The employee told her manager about the gun and the manager alerted a Tampa police officer who was doing paperwork at a table in the restaurant.
When Donaldson returned to the restaurant, police were waiting.
“I want to say thank you for having the courage and doing the right thing,” Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said of the McDonald’s worker. “The people who helped us today is what makes this a great city.”
An arrest affidavit shows Donaldson’s gun, purchased less than a month before the first murder, matches bullet casings found at three of the crime scenes.
During questioning Donaldson said he was unfamiliar with the Seminole Heights area, according to the affidavit. But the document states cell phone records place Donaldson at a location blocks away from the crime scenes. In addition, clothing recovered from his red Ford Mustang match surveillance video that could tie him to the crimes, the affidavit says.
“Tonight is the beginning of when justice will be served,” Mayor Buckhorn said, “and then the process will occur when this individual rots in hell. Tonight, we’re bringing someone to justice who doesn’t deserve the right to live amongst us.”
The arrest came just hours after Florida Gov. Rick Scott joined Buckhorn and police chief Dugan in Tampa to praise law enforcement and community efforts in the arrest.
“Last week, I visited Seminole Heights and saw firsthand the pain that these crimes have caused across the community,” Scott said. “As a father and a grandfather, it is unimaginable what the families of these victims are going through. Our thoughts and prayers remain with them, and we will work to ensure that they receive the justice they deserve. 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.”
Donaldson has no criminal record in Florida, according to court records, only several traffic citations.
The latest victim, 60-year-old Ronald Felton, left a church food pantry where he volunteered in the early morning hours and crossed the street to meet a friend. His assailant came from behind Felton, shot him in the back of the head and ran off. Tampa police were only blocks away, but the gunman still escaped.
That murder occurred just blocks away from a mural memorializing the previous three victims: Benjamin Mitchell, 22, shot Oct. 9 while waiting for a bus; 32-year-old Monica Hoffa, a waitress at IHOP, found dead in a vacant lot on Oct. 13; and Anthony Naiboa, 20, shot on Oct. 19 while walking down a neighborhood street after taking the wrong bus home.
Donaldson is currently held in Tampa’s Orient County Jail without bond.