Seminole Heights Killings: Timeline of events that led to arrest of Howell Emanuel Donaldson III

TAMPA, Fla. -- Newly released arrest documents show the timeline and incriminating evidence that led to the arrest of the man they say shot and killed four people since October in Seminole Heights.

Seminole Heights suspect arrested at Ybor McDonald's after Tampa Police receive tip

According to the arrest affidavit obtained by ABC Action News from the Tampa Police Department, the following events occurred in this order:

October 9

Benjamin Mitchell was shot four times at approximately 9 p.m. on October 9th. Mitchell died as a result of his wounds. At the time of the shooting, Mitchell was waiting at a Hartline bus stop located on North 15th Street in Seminole Heights. Police say they recovered two SIG brand Smith and Wesson .40 caliber cartridge casings from the scene. Video surveillance recovered from a nearby residence captured a person walking eastbound along the 1300 block of East Frierson Avenue towards North 15th Street, approximately 8 to 10 minutes before the murder.  

Police say that the surveillance video shows the person holding a cell phone while he was walking. Footage from the same video surveillance system captured the person running westbound in the 1300 block of East Frierson Avenue, approximately twenty-five seconds after the murder. 

A witness called 911 immediately after the murder and provided a sworn statement to law enforcement that she had seen an African-American man running westbound in the 1300 block of East Frierson Avenue away from the scene of the murder.

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October 11

At approximately 8:47 p.m. on October 11th, Tampa Police responded to 911 calls referencing gunshots in the area of North 11th Street at the intersection of East New Orleans Avenue. 

October 13

On October 13th, Monica Hoffa was found shot to death in an overgrown lot on the southwest corner of East New Orleans Avenue at the North 11th Street intersection. Police say that Hoffa was shot three times.

Police recovered five SIG brand Smith and Wesson .40 caliber cartridge casings in the area.

A friend of Hoffa's provided a sworn statement to law enforcement that he was on his way to meet Hoffa, on October 11th, around the same time of the reported gunfire. The same friend stated that he never met up with Hoffa and that he never heard from her, according to the arrest affidavit. 

October 19

At approximately 7:57 p.m. on October 19th, Anthony Naiboa was shot and killed by a single gunshot wound to his head. Naiboa was walking northbound, along the east side of the 5100 block of North 15th Street, when he was killed in the driveway of a local residence.

Police say that a single SIG brand Smith and Wesson .40 caliber cartridge casing was found at the scene.

November 14

At 4:50 a.m. on November 14th, Ronald Felton was shot and killed while crossing in the area of the 5100 block of North Nebraska Avenue.

Four SIG brand Smith and Wesson .40 caliber fired cartridge casing were recovered from the scene.

A witnessed provided a sworn statement to law enforcement that she saw an African-American male shoot Felton. The same witness told police that the suspect ran eastbound in the 900 block of East McBerry Street. The witness described the male as approximately 6-feet tall with a thin, strong build.

Video surveillance footage from a nearby business shows a single suspect shoot Felton as he crossed Nebraska Avenue.

FOUR HOMICIDES RELATED

All four murders took place in the Southeast Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa. 

The F.D.L.E. and A.T.F. analysis of the fired cartridge casings recovered from all four scenes proved that the same firearm was used to shoot all four victims. The casings were further identified as being fired in a Glock .40 caliber handgun.

November 28

Around 2:38 p.m. on November 28th, a third witness approached a Tampa Police officer while the officer was at the McDonald's in Ybor City. The witness told the officer that an employee, 24-year-old Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, handed the witness a McDonald's food bag with a gun in it. Tampa Police officers checked the bag's contents and found a .40 caliber Glock firearm loaded with SIG brand Smith and Wesson ammunition. 

The witness told police that Donaldson expressed his intention to leave the state.

Donaldson left the restaurant before the firearm's discovery, however, he returned to the Ybor City McDonald's shortly thereafter. When he returned, Tampa police detained him for questioning. 

ABC Action News got exclusive video when Donaldson was taken in for questioning on Tuesday:

 

 

 

Donaldson agreed to meet at Police Headquarters to provide a statement regarding the firearm. When he spoke with police, they repeatedly told him that he had the right to leave and/or end the conversation. The arrest affidavit says that Donaldson gave consent to conduct a search of his car and cell phone as well as permission to examine his firearm at the F.D.L.E. laboratory. 

Police say that Donaldson admitted to buying the Glock firearm and ammunition from Shooter's World on Fletcher Avenue in September. Donaldson further attested to the fact that he was the only one who had control of the Glock firearm since purchasing it.

Donaldson told police that he was unfamiliar with the Seminole Heights neighborhood, and did not have any association with anyone in the area, according to the arrest affidavit. 

INCRIMINATING EVIDENCE

Cell Phone Locations

When police searched Donaldson's cell phone, it revealed storage of location data, known as "significant locations," which police say revealed an address in the 1300 block of East Frierson Avenue. The location data indicated only three days of recorded times and activities. 

  • October 9, 2017: Between 8:47 and 9:02 p.m.
  • October 11, 2017: Between 8:18 and 8:42 p.m.
  • October 19, 2017: Between 7:51 and 7:58 p.m.

During the ongoing investigation related to the pattern of the homicides, call detail records were obtained from AT&T. The records showed that within minutes of the murders on October 9, October 11, and October 19, Donaldson's cell phone was geographically associated with the AT&T cell tower providing coverage for the areas that include all the homicide locations.

Clothing Found in Car

When police searched Donaldson's car, they found clothing that looked similar to the clothes worn by the subject captured in surveillance video the night Benjamin Mitchell was murdered. The arrest affidavit states that police saw what appeared to be a blood stain on an article of clothing.

The Firearm

The F.D.L.E. comparison of the Glock firearm to the cartridge casings revealed that the cartridge casings, which were recovered in the first three murders, were fired through the Glock firearm. The casings in the fourth murder were unavailable for comparison but had been previously identified as being fired in the same firearm as the previous three. The recovered Glock firearm was loaded with a magazine containing five rounds of SIG brand Smith and Wesson .40 caliber ammunition.

Investigation into the firearm's purchase revealed that Donaldson purchased the firearm on October 3, 2017, and he picked it up on October 7. His purchase was in accordance with the mandatory wait period, which requires three days between purchase and delivery of a firearm, according to the Florida Constitution. 

Receipts of purchase further revealed that Donaldson purchased a 20-round box of SIG brand Smith and Wesson ammunition on October 7. 

WHO IS HOWELL EMANUEL DONALDSON III?

ABC Action News is looking further into the past of the 24-year-old man suspected of killing four people in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa. Howell Emanuel Donaldson III also went by the name "Trai." Donaldson was a graduate of St. John's University in New York City, but a Tampa native with a Town 'N' Country address. 

ARREST

Police arrested Donaldson and charged him with four counts of First-Degree murder in connection to the murders of Benjamin MitchellMonica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton.

POST MIRANDA

 

After police read Donaldson his Miranda rights, they confronted him with the evidence asking for an explanation. Donaldson did not give an explanation and asked for the presence of an attorney.

 

Donaldson was arrested and booked early Wednesday morning, therefore his first court appearance will be sometime Thursday morning.

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