New York City

Suspected Florida Serial Killer Attended St. John's University in NYC: Officials

Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, 24, is suspected in a series of shooting deaths since October

What to Know

  • Howell Emmanuel Donaldson III, 24, has been arrested in a series of shooting deaths in the Tampa area
  • He's expected to be charged with four counts of first-degree murder; 3 of the victims were getting on or off a bus or waiting at a bus stop
  • Donaldson attended St. John's University in Queens, officials confirm; he graduated in January 2017 and was a walk-on student athlete

The man arrested in Tampa in a series of killings that unnerved residents for months was a graduate of St. John's University in New York City and part of the men's basketball team there, officials say.

Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, 24, graduated from St. John's in January 2017, after enrolling there in the fall of the 2011, university officials confirm to News 4. He was a walk-on student athlete for the men's basketball team during the 2011-2012 season but never played in a game. 

Donaldson was detained with a gun at a McDonald's restaurant in Tampa's Ybor City neighborhood. Police said Tuesday night they plan to charge him on four counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths in recent weeks. They all took place in the same half mile-area north of downtown. 

"All four murders were ruthlessly committed," Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said at a news conference Wednesday morning. "There was no apparent motive." 

Donaldson was arrested in Manhattan in 2014, but the record remains sealed.

"Obviously Tampa is in the midst of a very intense investigation," said NYPD Chief James O'Neill. "So we've taken that name and started working that to see if he's involved in anything up here." 

Benjamin Mitchell, 22, was shot and killed on Oct. 9. Monica Hoffa, 32, was shot on Oct. 11, but her body wasn't found until Oct. 13. Anthony Naiboa, 20, was killed on Oct. 20 and Ronald Felton, 60, was killed on Nov. 14.

Police say on Tuesday afternoon, Donaldson showed up at the McDonald's where he worked and handed a bag to a coworker, then left. The coworker opened the bag and found the gun inside. 

"He didn't think much of it, just thought it was strange there was a gun in there and gave the bag to a police officer who was in the McDonald's," said Dugan. 

"That was the bit of information we were looking for. That is what we needed," said Dugan.

The officer called the operations center, and police determined it was the same gun used in the four murders. 

"As our investigation continued into the early hours of this morning, we were then able to gather the probably cause and charge Howell Donaldson with four counts of first-degree murder," said Dugan.

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.

"My heart breaks and grieves for the families of these four individuals who have been murdered, and their extended families and friends that have gone through hell the past 51 days," said Dugan. "I hope this brings to an end for them, or at least it's the first day of the healing process for these families and this community." 

Donaldson was cooperative when he spoke with police and admitted he owned the gun, but never offered a motive.

"We were really hoping to find out what was driving him to do this," said Dugan. "We don't have those answers yet. It's an ongoing investigation. We're going to speak to a lot of people now that we know who did this."

It's not clear why Donaldson picked the southeast Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa to choose his targets, but Dugan said he always believed the killer was familiar with that neighborhood. 

"He seemed like he knew exactly what he was doing," said Dugan. 

CORRECTION (Nov. 29, 2017, 10:07 a.m. ET): An earlier version of this story misspelled Howell Emanuel Donaldson's name.

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