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Suspected Tampa Serial Killer Used Same Gun, Had No "Apparent" Motive

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TAMPA (CBSMiami/AP) – A tip about a gun inside a McDonald's led police to a man suspected of killing four people in a Tampa neighborhood in the last two months.

During a news conference Wednesday morning, Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan said their suspect, 24-year-old Howell Emanuel Donaldson III used the same gun for the murders and had "no apparent motive."

Dugan said their big break in the case came when Donaldson brought a loaded gun to his job at a McDonald's and asked a coworker to hold it. Workers at the fast-food restaurant reported the gun to a police officer who was doing paperwork there, setting off an investigation that linked Donaldson to the gun used in the crimes.

"The gun is what we needed," said Dugan.

Donaldson asked an employee at the restaurant to hold a bag with a loaded semi-automatic gun while he went to a nearby business to get a payday loan, according to an arrest report.

The employee told her manager about the gun and the manager alerted a Tampa police officer at a table in the restaurant.

When Donaldson returned to the McDonald's, police were waiting.

Tampa Arrest
Howell Emmanuel Donaldson III is accused of four murders. (Source: Hillsborough Co. Sheriff's Office)

Coworkers said Donaldson never fit in.

"It's a sad thing because we had this guy in our kitchen. And everybody was spooked by him, because he was strange," said coworker Gail Robertson.

The arrest overnight brought relief to a community on edge over an apparent serial killer targeting people near bus stops.

But people who live and work in Seminole Heights may never find out why he chose their neighborhood.

"Why? It seems like a few random acts of violence that were pretty horrific and out of nowhere, so it seems the motive is still up in the air," said Matthew Cogan, who works nearby.

Police had earlier released black-and-white surveillance video showing a man in a hoodie as a possible suspect, and by Halloween the fear was so great that police escorted children while trick-or-treating.

Authorities said a search of Donaldson's cellphone found location data that indicated three days of recorded times and activities corresponding with the first three shootings on October 9th, October 11th, and October 19th.

The arrest report said police found clothing inside Donaldson's car that was similar to what was worn by a person spotted in surveillance video taken the night of the first shooting.

Police listed a .40 caliber Smith and Wesson handgun on Donaldson's jail records.

According to an affidavit, that matches the casings found at the scene of the first three murders.

Donaldson told investigators he was unfamiliar with the neighborhood where the shootings occurred. He then asked for an attorney. The chief said he didn't know if he had a lawyer yet.

Donaldson graduated from St. Johns University in New York in January 2017, according to school spokesman Brian Browne. He was a walk-on for the men's basketball team during the 2011-12 season, but never played in a game, Browne said.

Police in New York said Donaldson had been arrested in May 2014, but the arrest was sealed and no details were available.

The shooting spree started on Oct. 9, when 22-year-old Benjamin Mitchell was shot to death. Authorities said Donaldson legally purchased the gun at a gun shop a few days before the killing.

On Oct. 11, 32-year-old Monica Hoffa was slain. And on Oct. 19, Anthony Naiboa, 20, was killed after taking the wrong bus home from his new job. On November 14th, 60-year-old Ronald Felton was killed.

All of the October victims were either getting on or off a city bus or were at a bus stop when they were shot, police said.

Relatives of the people murdered are thanking police and the community, after more than 5,000 tips came in during the nearly two-month long search.

"We are not shadowed by this whatsoever. We will shine through this," said one of the victim's uncles. "We will make every single one of them – Benjamin, Monica, Anthony and Ronald – we will not let their names die in vain."

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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