TAMPA – Coworkers at the McDonald's restaurant in the Tampa area, where the 24-year-old suspect in a series of deadly shootings worked say they mocked him for his resemblance to the grim figure in a surveillance video released weeks ago by the police.
"I joked about it and said it was the killer, because it looked like the images," said Gail Rogers, who worked four years at the Ybor City McDonalds. Tampa Bay Times.
"I called him the killer in his face," Rogers said. "He did not like that."
Howell Emanuel Donaldson III was arrested on Tuesday after leaving a bag containing a gun loaded with a co-worker on Tuesday afternoon, and the manager contacted a police officer. Tampa police chief Brian Dugan said the same weapon was used in the four killings of Seminole Heights in October and November.
Tampa police posted surveillance footage in October showing a man wearing a hoodie walking in the Tampa neighborhood. Dugan said investigators recovered a jacket and a hoodie from Donaldson's car that seemed to match those worn by the suspect seen in a publicly posted surveillance video. He said that it is not clear that they are the same garments, but he made it clear that he did, and said: "if he walks like a duck".
Donaldson received orders without bail during a first court appearance on Thursday morning. He stopped in silence while Tampa judge Margaret R. Taylor discussed the charges with his lawyers and prosecutors.
The suggestion about the weapon was "what we needed," said Dugan, the crucial key that definitely linked the four murders that have terrorized the city for weeks. Dugan said the gun provided probable cause to arrest Donaldson, who faces four counts of premeditated murder in the first degree.
Dugan said that Donaldson admitted possessing the weapon, but did not confess the four seemingly random deaths of Benjamin Edward Mitchell, Monica Caridad Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton. Mitchell, 22, became the first victim on October 9. Two days after Mitchell was shot, Hoffa, 32, was shot. On October 19, Naiboa, 20, was shot after taking the wrong bus home from his new job.
All October victims were getting on or off a city bus, or were at a bus stop when they were shot, police said. Police found 60-year-old Felton's body on the street on November 14. Police said Felton had crossed the street to meet someone when the gunman approached from behind and fired.
"The four murders were ruthlessly committed," Dugan said. "The four murders were related for no apparent reason."
Donaldson appeared in court on video on Wednesday at the Hillsborough County Jail. He was handcuffed and wore a blue sleeveless anti-sleeping vest. Two deputies held him by the arms during the hearing. He did not talk to the judge.
Taylor set up a hearing on Tuesday to determine whether he will remain without bail until his trial.
The relatives of the victims, some wearing Seminole Heights shirts, watched from the courtroom.
The family of Monica Hoffa, the second victim, met in the courtroom to watch. Hoffa's father, Kenny Hoffa, drove to Tampa from his home in South Carolina as soon as he learned of the arrest.
"I am praying for your family," said Kenny Hoffa, the victim's father, Monica Hoffa, at the Tampa Bay Times. "I know you are experiencing everything that we are experiencing … Unfortunately, you are going to suffer the loss of a child, like we lost a daughter, it is a tragedy in every way."
Hillsborough State Prosecutor Andrew Warren reportedly spoke to the media after the hearing and vowed to prosecute Donaldson to the fullest extent of the law, which may include the application of the death penalty.
"The death penalty should be reserved for the worst of the worst," Warren told the Tampa Bay Times, "and, in general, a serial killer would qualify."
Warren said he hopes to file formal charges before a grand jury for an indictment.
The arrest brought immense relief to the Seminole Heights neighborhood, where many outdoor activities had stopped since the first death on October 9. Two more fatal shootings occurred in the following weeks, and the residents were so frightened that the police escorted the children while trying to cheat or treat them.
"Relief, Sadness, I think it's a lot of emotions," said Brittany Lott, who said she had not walked with her dogs in 51 days, and decided to spend time in the backyard.
CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez reports that Donaldson is from the Tampa area, but also has connections to New York. Donaldson graduated from St. Johns University in New York in January 2017, according to the school's spokesperson, Brian Browne. It was a walk-on for the men's basketball team during the 2011-12 season, but never played in a game, Browne said.
Donaldson's neighbors said Wednesday they had recently seen him play basketball with his younger brother on the suburban road of the family's brick house. Now they are watching their news on television, bewildered about how a child who went to college in New York with a basketball scholarship ended up behind bars.
"He is very kind, greets, very educated," said the neighbor. Kelly Fabian, who said that she took Donaldson to school when he was younger. "Calm child, it's amazing."
New York City police say they would like to examine the ballistic results of the weapon used in the Florida killings to see if the weapon matches an unresolved crime in New York. Police in New York said he had been arrested in 2014 for a misdemeanor, but the arrest was sealed.
Donaldson did not live in the Seminole Heights neighborhood where the shooting occurred and police said authorities could not determine why Donaldson chose the area. Dugan said Donaldson has been cooperative and friendly with officers, but has not shed any light on why he committed the crimes or how he chose the victims.
After graduating from college, Donaldson worked in customer service at the Definitive Medical Academy, a school that trains workers for health care jobs. He started there in February and worked for about three months before being fired for absenteeism. The academy said it approved a background check before being hired.