TAMPA (CBSMiami) – The devastated parents of a 24-year-old Tampa man, who stands accused of killing four, say he could never have gunned down innocent people in cold blood.
Leaning on each other and struggling to fight back the tears, Rosita and Howell Donaldson can’t believe the man police describe as a serial killer is the same gentle and happy son they raised.
“Anybody that knows ‘Trai’ knows that’s not Trai. He doesn’t have that personality or character that they’re giving him,” Rosita Donaldson said. “Trai was respectful, he was a leader, he had compassion, he got along with everybody.”
But during his bond hearing on Thursday, prosecutors painted a very different picture of Howell Donaldson III – laying out a litany of evidence that included the murder weapon.
The murder weapon was a gun that Donaldson allegedly asked a coworker to hold onto for him. That worker, instead, called police, which led to Donaldson’s arrest. Now, his parents are desperate for their eldest of three boys to know they have not abandoned him.
“He needs to know that we love him and we support him, and we need to see him,” said Rosita Donaldson.
And the Donaldsons also have a message for the victims’ families – a message they hope those families will be open to receive.
“We’re going to lean on our faith as we go through this ordeal,” Howell Donaldson Jr. said. “Our hearts are heavy as their hearts are heavy.”
The Donaldsons say they’re struggling the most with one question: Why? Why has this happened to the victims’ families? And why now to their family?
Police don’t have that answer yet.
“We don’t know what his motive is,” Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said. “But there is a lot more to go.”
The shooting spree started on Oct. 9, when 22-year-old Benjamin Mitchell was shot to death. Authorities said Donaldson legally purchased the gun at a gun shop a few days before the killing.
On Oct. 11, 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 November 14th, 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.
The Donaldsons have hired an attorney and are hoping to see their son as soon as possible.