Gov. Rick Scott came to Tampa early Wednesday to thank the officers involved in the arrest of 24-year-old Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, the man suspected of killing four people in Seminole Heights over the past six weeks.
“To the families of Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton, my heart goes out to you,” Scott said addressing reporters who gathered outside the Tampa Police Department headquarters shortly after 8 a.m.
“Because of the hard work of law enforcement, justice will be served.”
TPD Chief Brad Dugan and Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced that Donaldson was the suspect in the killings late Tuesday night, approximately eight hours after they arrested him at an Ybor City McDonald’s.
An employee at the fast food establishment said that Donaldson, who worked at the restaurant, came up and had given her a food bag with a .40 caliber Glock inside. The witness also told a TPD officer that Donaldson said he wanted to leave the state. Donaldson had since left the restaurant, but returned and was detained by officers.
Scott, Buckhorn, Dugan and other law enforcement officials were effusive in celebrating the collaborative effort between law enforcement agencies to help bring Donaldson into custody — just fifty-one days after he allegedly killed Mitchell, the first of the four people slain in the neighborhood.
Scott directed the Florida Highway Patrol to deploy additional troopers to Seminole Heights last week. Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents had also been involved in the manhunt, as well as sheriff deputies from Hillsborough County and officers from the St. Petersburg Police Department.
“We would not be here today having apprehending this individual had it not been for the team effort that’s been taking place for the last fifty-one days,” Buckhorn said.
Chief Dugan said at a press conference later on Wednesday that his investigators still have work to do on the case, though he said definitively that Donaldson is the culprit in the murders. He added that he had spoken briefly with Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren on Wednesday, but said it was too early to determine what penalty to seek.
Buckhorn surprised some residents a month ago when he asked Tampa Police officers who were working on finding the killer to “bring me his head on a platter.”
His rhetoric was toned down Wednesday, though he couldn’t resist offering his opinion about Donaldson’s fate.
“Today we begin the healing process, and today the judicial process starts,” the mayor said. “And it will end, and I will promise you that when it does end, that this community will be a better place because I know where this guy is going to spend his eternity.”
When asked what should happen to Donaldson, Buckhorn said he wanted the process to take its place. And once it does?
“If he is found to be guilty, he should die. It’s that simple,” the mayor said.
Dugan said the arrest of Donaldson gave him a feeling of relief. The longtime Tampa policeman was named interim chief earlier this year, and then was officially given the title of chief just a few weeks ago. He said it was hardly an ideal way to start off his career.
“To start off as chief of police and to have four unsolved homicides on your watch? That’s a tough pill to swallow. That is something that I’ll carry the rest of my life,” Dugan said.
Scott said he couldn’t understand why anyone would want to murder someone in cold blood.
“Why somebody would have it in their mind to go take four individuals lives? I don’t get it, and I don’t know if we’ll ever understand it,” he said.
Dugan said there is no apparent motive for the murders at this time. He said Donaldson was cooperative with officers once he was taken into custody, but has only admitted that the gun he was found with on Tuesday was his. He has not admitted to the murders.