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Police Have Several Leads After Fourth Person Killed In Unsolved Tampa Shootings

Police are scouring Tampa's Seminole Heights neighborhood, one day after a man was gunned down on Nebraska Avenue. It was the fourth murder in a month in the area north of downtown Tampa.

Updated at 3:20 p.m. Wednesday:

Police Chief Brian Dugan held a community meeting Tuesday night, where he asked residents to give them any information about people wandering around in the early morning hours Tuesday.

Dugan said that means even reporting friends or family members if they weren't at home. He described the suspect as a black male, six feet to six feet two inches, with a thin build and a light complexion. He was armed with a large black pistol and was last seen wearing all black clothing.

The chief said the suspect ran east on McBerry Street after 60-year-old Ronald Felton was gunned down. Felton was volunteering at a church food bank and was shot in the back as he crossed Nebraska Avenue. Dugan says the suspect may have snuck up on Felton and conceded there might be more than one person involved. He also said it's likely the suspect knows the neighborhood and could have a place to hide.

The shooter is still unknown, but police spoke to some eye-witnesses and are working to identify him.
 
The biggest question some may have is, why would someone do this?  University of South Florida Criminology Professor Dr. Kathleen Heide says like other serial killers, this one might be craving attention. And he's getting it.  

“Likely, the person feels a sense of power, and possibly importance, because these series of actions or killings are being discussed on a national level," Heide said.

She also encourages caution within the general public.

"Some individuals who commit these acts like the idea of signature, in other words the killings being identified as done by the same individual," she said, "but if he/she or they change their modus operandi, then some of these killings in the future, and hopefully they will not occur, might not be as apparently linked to the four that have occurred."
 
Heide thinks the killer probably didn't know the victims.  And the victims may have just been at the wrong place at the wrong time.  
 

Tampa police say residents of Seminole Heights reported hearing shots just before 5 a.m. When officers arrived, they found the body of Ronald Felton, 60, in the street. They say Felton had been walking across the street to meet someone when the gunman came up behind him and fired.

Investigators say they believe the shooting is connected to the three previous slayings in Southeast Seminole Heights.

"It’s very unfortunate here that we’ve had another one," Police Chief Brian Dugan said.

In the span of 10 days last month, three people were slain, leading to increased police patrols in the Seminole Heights area. All were alone and had gotten off a bus when they were gunned downed at night for no apparent reason. None were robbed.

Police urged Seminole Heights residents to stay inside Tuesday as they searched the area, which they sealed off shortly after the shooting. They said they were looking for a thin, black man, about 6-feet tall, wearing black clothing and carrying a large handgun. They were asking residents to examine video from their security cameras.

Ronald Felton
Credit Tampa Police Department

Police spokesman Steve Hegarty said the suspect couldn't have "gone very far, and we're talking to as many people as we can to see what they may have seen."

LaJuanda Moates opened her floral shop minutes after Felton was gunned down, just a block away, Then, she heard about the man she calls "Ronnie." She pointed to his bicycle, still chained to a telephone poll across the street.

"It's horrific. We're shattered," she said. "Ronnie was such a great guy. He didn't deserve this. Here he is, helping the community, serving out of a food pantry and lost his life this morning."

Moates says police told her two men were seen running away with the shooter.

"We were just getting a sense of business was starting to pick up, because the other three murders happened a few months back -- I don't even know, maybe six weeks?" she said.

LaJuanda Moates in front of the alley near where Ronald Felton was shot. Moates says police asked her to close the alley
Credit Steve Newborn / WUSF Public Media

"My employees, everybody, we're just devastated. I will absolutely be beefing up security here," Moates said. I will absolutely have my surveillance. We leave two-by-two every night, we don't walk to our car unless we're accompanied."

After the earlier shootings, police released surveillance videos of a hooded suspect. In a security video taken moments after Benjamin Mitchell became the first victim on Oct. 9, a suspect is seen running from the scene.

"I've come up with four reasons why this person is running," Dugan said last month. "One, they may be late for dinner. Two, they're out exercising. Three, they heard gunshots. And number four, they just murdered Benjamin Mitchell."

Two days after Mitchell, 22, was shot, Monica Hoffa, 32, was gunned down. And on Oct. 19, Anthony Naiboa, 20, was shot after taking the wrong bus home from his new job. Police patrolling nearby heard the gunshots and rushed to the scene to find Naiboa dead.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told officers at a briefing last month to hunt the suspect down and "bring his head to me."

Seminole Heights is a working-class neighborhood northeast of downtown Tampa that's slowly becoming gentrified. Run-down homes sit next to renovated, historic bungalows, and trendy restaurants have sprung up near auto body shops.

Residents and business owners have said there are car burglaries and fights between kids, but nothing like this.