A 24-year-old man has been charged with the murders of four people shot to death in a Florida neighborhood over the course of more than a month in what officials believe was the work of a serial killer.
Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said Wednesday that the arrest of Howell “Trai” Donaldson III, 24, meant the people of Seminole Heights could “get some sleep.”
The neighborhood had been on edge since early October, when the killings began.
On Oct. 9, police found Benjamin Edward Mitchell lying at a bus stop along North 15th Street and East Frierson Avenue. The 22-year-old man was rushed to the hospital with at least one gunshot wound, but could not be saved. He lived about one block away from where he was found.
Two days later, on Oct. 11, Monica Caridad Hoffa, 32, was shot and killed near the intersection of East New Orleans Avenue and North 10th Street, police said. Cops found her body two days later.
“She loved life and had a beautiful smile that would light up the room,” her obituary read. “Her life was taken from her with no motive.”
On Oct. 13, police released a video of a man they said might be able to help solve Mitchell’s murder.
Tampa Police again appealed to the public on Oct. 17, saying circumstances and the proximity of the killings — Mitchell and Hoffa were killed within 10 blocks of each other — led investigators to believe the murders were related.
“Both cases are somewhat unusual because there are no clear motives behind the killings,” Dugan told reporters.
Only two more days would pass before another person was killed, when on Oct. 19, Anthony Naiboa was shot and killed at about 8 p.m.
Officers in the area heard gunfire and rushed to the scene, but Naiboa, 20, was already dead, and his killer was nowhere to be found.
“It appears that, just by eyeballing it, it’s just a few hundred yards away from where Mr. Mitchell was murdered the other night,” Dugan said at a press conference of the third killing.
On Oct. 20, police released Naiboa’s name.
“I go from frustration to anger on these unsolved homicides and now we have someone who is terrorizing a neighborhood,” Dugan said on Oct. 20. “It’s just difficult to see this happen.”
Dugan shared that Naiboa had taken the wrong bus to get home and was on his way to his correct his course when he was murdered.
“He should not have been in this neighborhood,” Dugan said. “It appears that he was walking northbound from what we think, going to another bus stop, and he did not make it... he was in the prime of his life and was taken instantly.”
On Oct. 21, Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the killings.
On Oct. 22, hundreds of people gathered for a vigil to honor the victims. With candles in hand, mourners walked in silence to the places where Mitchell, Hoffa and Naiboa were found.
“Stand up, not only for Monica, not only for Benjamin, not only for Anthony, but stand up as a community," the stepmother of Anthony Naiboa, Maria Rodriguez, told WTSP-TV.
On Oct. 23 Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn gathered with community leaders and residents to discuss the murders, as business owners worried the area would suffer as a result of the killings.
“It’s about not allowing ourselves to disrupt our normal lives but continue to support this neighborhood as it’s trying to be a friendly spot for everybody,” Eric Bloomquist, assistant manager at Ichicoro Ramen, told WTSP-TV.
The mayor spoke out again on Oct. 25, calling on police to find and capture the “son of a b****” responsible for the murders.
The police appealed to the community on Oct. 26, saying they need “names, not speculation” to solve the case. Dugan released new footage of a person said to be in the area when Mitchell was killed.
As Halloween arrived on Oct. 31, residents feared venturing out to trick-or-treat with their children. Buckhorn took to the streets for the holiday in a sign of solidarity with the community and commitment to finding who killed Mitchell, Hoffa and Naiboa.
On Nov. 9, the reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction was increased to $41,000.
Five days later, on Nov. 14, the suspected serial killer claimed a fourth life.
Ronald Felton, 60, was found dead near North Nebraska Avenue and East McBerry Street. Investigators believed Felton was crossing the street when someone came up from behind and shot him, Dugan told reporters.
His family told WTSP-TV that Felton was on his way to feed the homeless at his church when he was killed.
“He never was a taker," his sister, Sheryl Kelly, said. He always gave back."
On Nov. 15, police released new surveillance footage they said showed the suspect in the murders. The reward to find the killer was increased to $91,000.
The following day, on Nov. 16, the reward was increased to $100,000.
On Nov. 20, the David A. Straz Jr. Foundation donated $10,000 to the reward, increasing the amount to $110,000.
The community also held a dinner for first responders in appreciation of their work in helping to find the killer.
The horror is believed to have come to an end eight days later, when on Tues., Nov. 28, police responded to a Ybor City McDonald’s, where they recovered a gun and took a man into custody for questioning.
Police later confirmed that Howell Donaldson III would be charged with four counts of first-degree murder.
“We’re good. Sun is shining. Tampa is ready to move on,” Buckhorn said on Wednesday. “This is an amazing city, and our best chapter is yet to be written.”