Thanks to a tip-off from a coworker, Tampa police were finally able to arrest the individual suspected of killing four different members of a community over the span of 51 days. Howell Donaldson III, an employee at a nearby McDonald’s, was confronted and taken into custody on Tuesday after he had reportedly handed over a gun to a fellow employee while on the clock.
Donaldson’s coworker said that he had handed over his backpack to his boss and adamantly told them not to look inside, in addition to expressing interest in fleeing the state. After the manager looked inside and found a gun, they immediately called the cops, who showed up at the fast food restaurant to confront the employee.
Authorities quickly matched Donaldson’s .40 caliber Glock and Smith and Wesson ammunition to the evidence discovered at each of the four crime scenes, all of which took place within a half mile of each other. It was later revealed that the former St. John’s University grad had legally purchased the firearm just six days before the first killing of Benjamin Mitchell on October 9.
Police also matched Donaldson’s cellphone signal to the tower nearest to the Seminole Heights apartment complex during the first three shootings that took place. After being apprehended, he was charged with four counts of first-degree murder and is being held in Hillsborough County Jail until further proceedings.
The McDonald’s general manager, Delonda Walker, said that she was “overwhelmed and surprised by [Tuesday’s] events,” but was “appreciative” that the authorities had “acted quickly” after receiving the tip.
“I am also appreciative of the outpouring of support from the community,” Walker added. “My thoughts are focused on the victims and their families and out of respect for them and the active investigation, please direct inquiries to the Tampa Police Department.”
Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan held a press conference following the arrest of the 24-year-old, but couldn’t divulge much new information, especially considering the suspect was acting suspiciously calm throughout the entire situation.
Though Donaldson did not outright confess to the killings, he did inform the authorities that he did in fact own the firearm in question. According to the police chief, the suspect was “pretty non-responsive” despite the accusation. “He wasn’t angry. It was a very subdued, strange behavior, in my opinion,” Dugan said.
“To have four homicides on your watch is a tough pill to swallow,” he added. “I will hold onto that the rest of my life.” But Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was more thankful than anything. “This was a good night last night, thanks to the work of the Tampa Police Department and all of our partners and Chief Dugan,” Buckhorn said in an interview. He added that those living near the Seminole Heights community can now “rest comfortably.”
The Tampa Police Department reportedly received over 5,000 tips in the unsolved case, noting that the uneasiness of the community probably played a part in encouraging more people to come forward with any sort of information.
“It’s been 51 days since the first murder, and it’s day one of the healing process to kind of help these families and this community put their lives back together,” Dugan reiterated on Tuesday.
Donaldson’s former school, St. John’s University, confirmed that he joined the school as a walk-on member of the basketball team in 2011 and graduated in 2017. He previously had one arrest in Manhattan, but the case was subsequently sealed.
Even Governor Rick Scott weighed in on the issue, expressing “thoughts and prayers” to those affected by the situation.
“As a father and a grandfather, it is unimaginable what the families of these victims are going through,” the governor said. “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.”