TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The suspect in a string of four slayings that terrorized a Tampa neighborhood was arrested after he brought a loaded gun to his job at a McDonald’s and asked a co-worker to hold it, authorities said.
McDonald’s workers reported the gun to a police officer who was doing paperwork at the fast-food restaurant, setting off an investigation that linked Howell Emanuel Donaldson, 24, to the crimes, in part by using location data from his cellphone, authorities said.
The arrest overnight brought relief Wednesday to a community on edge over an apparent serial killer who targeted three people near bus stops after dusk last month. Police had earlier released black-and-white surveillance video showing a man in a hoodie as a possible suspect, and by Halloween the fear was so great that police escorted children while trick-or-treating.
Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan announced at a news conference that Donaldson would be charged with four counts of first-degree murder. Police have not released a motive. A news conference was planned for 10 a.m. EST.
The tip that led police to Donaldson came from one of his co-workers at a McDonalds in Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood, which is near the Seminole Heights neighborhood where the killings have occurred.
Donaldson asked an employee at the restaurant to hold a bag with a loaded semi-automatic gun while he went to a nearby business to get a payday loan, according to an arrest report.
The employee told her manager about the gun and the manager alerted a Tampa police officer at a table in the restaurant.
When Donaldson returned to the McDonald’s, police were waiting.
Television station WFLA , citing an arrest report, said a search of Donaldson’s cellphone found location data that indicated three days of recorded times and activities corresponding with the first three shootings on Oct. 9, Oct. 11 and Oct. 19.
The arrest report said police found clothing inside Donaldson’s car that was similar to what was worn by a person spotted in surveillance video taken the night of the first shooting.
Donaldson told investigators he was unfamiliar with the neighborhood where the shootings occurred. He then asked for an attorney, but arrest records don’t list one.
Speaking Wednesday morning on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” the police chief said authorities still don’t have a motive and will be seeking help from the public as they try to learn more about Donaldson. Dugan also said he has spoken with Donaldson.
“He was pretty non-responsive; wasn’t angry,” Dugan told ABC. “It was a very subdued, strange behavior in my opinion. But whoever does something like this, Lord knows what’s driving them.”
Residents and police had been on edge since Oct. 9, when 22-year-old Benjamin Mitchell was shot to death. Two days later, 32-year-old Monica Hoffa, was slain. And on Oct. 19, Anthony Naiboa, 20, was killed after taking the wrong bus home from his new job. On Nov. 14, 60-year-old Ronald Felton was killed.
All of the October victims were either getting on or off a city bus, or were at a bus stop when they were shot, police said.
Dugan said the department had received more than 5,000 tips. He thanked those who called in the tip that led to Donaldson’s arrest.
Donaldson graduated from St. Johns University in New York in January 2017, according to school spokesman Brian Browne. He was a walk-on for the men’s basketball team during the 2011-12 season, but never played in a game, he said.
Police in New York said Donaldson had been arrested in May 2014, but the arrest was sealed and no details were available.