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Seminole Heights Finally At Ease After Serial Killer Suspect Arrested

The Tampa neighborhood of Seminole Heights is known for it's craft beer, innovative restaurants and eclectic boutiques.

But over the past 51 days, state, local and federal authorities have been constantly patrolling the neighborhood looking for whoever killed four people.

The deaths began with the murder of 22-year-old Benjamin Mitchell on October 9th.

Police are hoping the Tuesday night arrest of Howell Emmanuel Donaldson III on four counts of first degree murder could put residents' fears to rest.

Credit Steve Newborn / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
Family members of the victims gather alongside Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn

Seminole Heights native Mike Hurlstone was at an open-air laundromat Wednesday, overlooking the stretch of Nebraska Ave. where Ronald Felton, 60, was gunned down earlier this month.

Hurlstone said leaving his Caracas Street house at night has been nerve-wracking.

"Once it gets dark, you won't see very many people outside cause they're scared," he said.

Another resident, Dameon Williams, said he stopped taking early morning bike rides and described the last two months as living in "a bit of a constant state of fear."

"That kind of shook me up," he said, refferring to the string of murders. "I don't want to take a bike ride and become a statistic or a hashtag."

Donaldson was arrested after handing a bag containing a gun to a coworker at an Ybor City McDonald's.

While Donaldson was running an errand, the co-worker tipped off a police officer who was doing paperwork in the restaurant lobby.

He was taken into custody by police upon returning.

Police say the gun that was seized was the one used in all four murders.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said Donaldson admitted to buying the gun legally just days before the first of the four murders.

Now that there has been an arrest, Lily Palomo of South Tampa said she is hoping to start frequenting Seminole Heights businesses again. She was at work when she heard the news early Wednesday morning.

"We all stopped what we were doing and looked around," she said. "It's just a sigh of relief. I've been getting text messages from my friends in New York City, just very happy that they finally caught him."

Robert Hoffa is the uncle of Monica Hoffa, the second victim in the string of shootings.

Standing alongside state and local law enforcement officers at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Hoffa praised what he sees as the resilience and support of the Seminole Heights community.

"This is my community," Hoffa said. "I live in Tampa and I've been here for 50 years. I want everyone to sleep well."

Police say the priority now is finishing the investigation and building a case against Donaldson.

But for Tampa, Mayor Bob Buckhorn says it is time for healing after months of challenges.

"This is a city that just lived through Irma and has now spent the last 51 days dealing with a serial killer," he said. "But I will tell you in no uncertain terms, that I could not be prouder of this city."

Credit Steve Newborn / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
Signs along Central Avenue in Seminole Heights

Roberto Roldan is a senior at the University of South Florida pursuing a degree in mass communications and a minor in international studies.
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