A McDonald’s employee who brought a loaded handgun to the fast-food restaurant was charged with the shooting deaths of four people who have been killed in Seminole Heights since early October, Tampa police said.
Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, 24, was in custody on Tuesday, according to police.
“This is the only arrest. He did it, that’s the way it goes,” Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday afternoon, Tampa police received a tip that a man handed a loaded 9mm handgun to one of his co-workers at an Ybor City McDonald’s and asked the worker to hold it while he went to an Amscot money superstore to get a payday loan, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
When the man returned to the restaurant, where he worked, Tampa police, who had been alerted by the manager, took him to headquarters to ask him about the gun.
Police did not release details about the arrest, citing the open investigation.
Dugan said the department had received “over 5,000 tips’’ since the murders began 51 days ago.
The killings began with the shooting death of Benjamin Mitchell, 22, in front of his home at a bus stop on Oct. 9. The second victim, Monica Hoffa, 32, was killed Oct. 11. Her body was found two days later by a city employee in a vacant parking lot half a mile from where Mitchell was slain, the Bradenton Herald reported.
On Oct. 19, Anthony Naiboa, an autistic 20-year-old who had just graduated from high school, was found shot to death about 50 feet away from the bus stop where Mitchell died.
Ronald Felton, 60, was the fourth victim. He was found Nov. 14.
Gail Rogers, who works at the McDonald’s, told the Tampa Bay Times the employee whom police questioned worked at the restaurant for just four months.
Some of the victims’ family members spoke after it was reported that police may have had a break in the case.
“I am nervous, and I really, I want this to be the end of this,” Kenny Hoffa, the father of Monica Hoffa, told the Tampa Bay Times. “It is like riding a roller coaster right before you go over the edge and you feel your stomach raise up in your face. This is the same thing. I am just extremely optimistic myself. I am praying that this is the end to it.”
Dugan said at a press conference earlier in the day that the McDonald’s tip was significant.
“Things are starting to fall into place. But we’ve had that before and unfortunately, it’s led to nothing. I’m guarded because I’ve been on this road before. It’s day 51 that we’ve been doing this. It’s been two weeks since Ronald Felton was murdered. It’s been a long time for the families and the cops and so I’m guarded on the whole thing but I’m very optimistic. This will be a long night.”
At the late-night press conference, Dugan expressed relief, as did Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
“Tonight goodness has won,” Buckhorn said. “Tonight in the battle between darkness and light, light has won. Tonight is the beginning of when justice will be served.’’