TAMPA (CBSMiami/AP) — The man charged with killing four people in Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood went before a judge Thursday morning.
Howell Emanuel Donaldson, 24, was formally charged with four counts of first-degree murder. The judge then denied him bond.
He was arrested Tuesday after he asked a co-worker at a McDonald’s restaurant to hold a bag carrying a gun while he went out to run an errand. The co-worker looked inside the bag, spotted the weapon and approached a Tampa police officer who was sitting in the restaurant doing paperwork. When Donaldson returned to the McDonald’s, police were waiting.
“The gun is what we needed,” Police Chief Brian Dugan said at a news conference surrounded by family members of the victims.
Shell casings from the gun matched the shootings, authorities said location data from Donaldson’s cellphone put him at the scene of at least three of the killings.
The arrest brought immense relief to the Seminole Heights neighborhood, where many outdoor activities had stopped since the first death October 9th. Two more fatal shootings happened in the weeks that followed, and residents were so scared that police escorted children while they trick-or-treated. The fourth killing happened in November.
“Relief. Sadness. I think it’s a slew of emotions,” said Brittany Lott, who said she hasn’t walked her dogs in 51 days, choosing to spend time in the backyard instead.
Donaldson’s neighbors said Wednesday that they’d recently seen him playing basketball with his younger brother in the suburban driveway of the family’s brick home. Now they’re watching news of him on television, puzzled as to how a kid who went to college in New York on a basketball scholarship ended up behind bars.
“He’s very nice, he waves, very polite,” said neighbor Kelly Fabian, who said she walked Donaldson to school when he was younger. “Quiet kid. It’s a shocker.”
New York City police say they’d like to examine ballistics results of the gun used in the Florida killings to see if the weapon matches any unsolved crimes in New York. Donaldson attended St. John’s University in Queens, graduating in January. Police in New York said he had been arrested in 2014 for a minor crime, but the arrest was sealed.
After graduating from college, Donaldson worked in customer support at the Ultimate Medical Academy, a school that trains workers for healthcare jobs. He started there in February and worked for about three months before he was fired for absenteeism. The academy said he passed a background check before he was hired.
His LinkedIn account also listed a job as a “guest experience host” for the New York Mets in 2016. The Mets would neither confirm nor deny that he was employed by them.
Donaldson did not live in the Seminole Heights neighborhood where the shootings occurred and the police said authorities have not been able to determine why Donaldson chose the area. Dugan said Donaldson has been cooperative and friendly to officers but hasn’t shed any light on why he committed the crimes or picked the victims.
Donaldson bought the gun and a 20-round box of bullets from Shooter’s World in Tampa on October 3rd. He picked it up after the four-day waiting period and the first killing happened two days after that.
Detective Austin Hill wrote in a police report that Donaldson told investigators “no one, except for himself had control of the Glock firearm since his purchase.”
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.
“We had a community that was on edge,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Wednesday. “Today the light shines. The darkness is over. This community begins the healing process.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)