Tampa Police have arrested a fast-food worker they believe is connected to the shooting deaths of four people in the city.
Updated at 1:05 p.m. Wednesday
Howell Emmanuel Donaldson III, 24, was questioned and arrested late Tuesday night in connection to the Seminole Heights serial killer case.
Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said Donaldson gave a bag with the gun to a co-worker at an Ybor City McDonald’s for safekeeping while he ran an errand.
"The co-worker opened the bag when Donaldson left and found the gun inside. (The employee) didn't think much of it, just thought it was strange there was a gun in there and gave the gun to a police officer who was in the McDonald's," Dugan said at a news conference Wednesday morning. "That was the piece of information we were looking for."
Forensic tests confirmed the firearm in the bag was the same weapon used in the four murders that plagued Seminole Heights in the past couple months.
Donaldson admitted to purchasing the gun legally a few days before the first victim was killed, but did not confess to committing the murders.
Police also recovered a hoodie in his vehicle. They say it matched the clothing described by eyewitnesses in a number of the murders.
Booking documents at the Hillsborough County Jail show that Donaldson has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder.
According to Tampa Police, he has no prior criminal history locally, but the Tampa Bay Times reported that Donaldson had been arrested in New York City in 2014. However, the case against him is barred from public record.
Dugan said while Donaldson hasn't confessed, his arrest is a relief to a neighborhood that's been on edge since the first murder happened in early October.
“It's been 51 days that they've been terrorized in their neighborhood. (This announcement) is about letting these families know that we are going to bring this person to justice and letting this neighborhood get some rest,” Dugan said late Tuesday night.
Dugan added he is not sure if Donaldson still worked at the McDonald's. An employee who spoke to media outside the restaurant Tuesday said he has been working there a few months.
One of Donaldson's former employers, Ultimate Medical Academy (UMA), has issued a statement on their website regarding his arrest. According to the statement, Donaldson was employed by UMA from Feb. 13-May 2, 2017, and was terminated due to absenteeism. UMA has reached out to the Tampa Police Department and are offering their full assistance with the case.
Police have received more than 5,000 tips about the shootings, which appear to have no clear motive. None of the victims apparently knew each other, and police are still not sure about Donaldson’s connection to Seminole Heights.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn was pleased to see a possible end to the case that's garnered unwanted international attention to the city.
He credited the hundreds of law enforcement officers who have patrolled the neighborhood - including officers from Tampa Police, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Highway Patrol.
“At the end of this, if he is found to be guilty, he should die,” Buckhorn said Wednesday.
Police have been searching for the killer since the Oct. 9 shooting of Benjamin Mitchell in front of his Seminole Heights home.
The other victims - Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton - all were shot to death while walking in the neighborhood located east of Interstate 275 and south of Hillsborough Avenue.
Donaldson is expected to make his first appearance in court Thursday morning.
Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying his office will ask that Donaldson be held without bond.