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Man charged with four murders over Tampa shootings spree


Howell Emanuel Donaldson was arrested after he took a loaded gun to his job at a McDonald's and asked a co-worker to hold it, authorities said (Tampa Police Department via AP)

Howell Emanuel Donaldson was arrested after he took a loaded gun to his job at a McDonald's and asked a co-worker to hold it, authorities said (Tampa Police Department via AP)

Howell Emanuel Donaldson was arrested after he took a loaded gun to his job at a McDonald's and asked a co-worker to hold it, authorities said (Tampa Police Department via AP)

A 24-year-old college graduate arrested over a string of deadly shootings that terrorised a Florida city has appeared in court charged with four counts of premeditated first-degree murder.

Howell Emanuel Donaldson was detained on Tuesday after he asked a colleague at a McDonald's restaurant in Tampa to hold a bag while he went across the street.

The co-worker looked inside the bag, spotted a loaded gun and alerted a police officer who was sitting in the restaurant.

Donaldson's arrest brought relief to the Seminole Heights neighbourhood, where many outdoor activities had stopped since a fatal gun attack on October 9. Two more shootings happened in the following weeks and residents were so scared that police escorted children while they went trick-or-treating for Halloween. The fourth killing happened in November.

Apart from matching shell casings at the shootings, authorities said location data from Donaldson's mobile phone put him at the scene of at least three of the killings.

"The gun is what we needed," Police Chief Brian Dugan said.

On Thursday, Judge Margaret R Taylor set a hearing for next Tuesday to determine whether Donaldson will be held in jail until his trial. Appearing via video-link from Hillsborough County Jail, Donaldson was shackled and wore a sleeveless, blue padded anti-suicide vest. Two bailiffs held him by the arms during the hearing as family members of the victims watched from the courtroom.

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Donaldson's neighbours said on Wednesday that they had recently seen him playing basketball with his younger brother at the family home. Now they are watching him on the TV news, wondering how a young man who went to college in New York on a basketball scholarship ended up behind bars.

"He's very nice, he waves, very polite," said neighbour Kelly Fabian, who said she walked Donaldson to school when he was younger. "Quiet kid. It's a shocker."

It was not known if Donaldson had a lawyer.

New York City police said they would like to examine ballistics results of the gun used in the Florida killings to see if the weapon matches any unsolved crimes there. 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.

Co-workers at McDonald's told the Tampa Bay Times they had teased Donaldson about his resemblance to the suspect after police released surveillance video that showed a shadowy figure walking in the area around the time one of the victims was killed.

"I called him the killer to his face," Gail Rogers said. "He didn't like that."

Robert Hoffa, the uncle of victim Monica Hoffa, said he was "overjoyed" when Tampa police called him to say they had made an arrest.

Donaldson did not live in the area where the shootings occurred and police said authorities have not been able to determine why he chose the location. Mr Dugan said Donaldson has been co-operative and friendly to officers, but has not shed any light on why he committed the crimes or picked the victims.

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 was a crew chief at the Ybor City McDonald's when he was arrested.

"The person who called us, I cannot thank them enough for standing up and doing the right thing," Mr Dugan said.

Donaldson bought the gun and a 20-round box of bullets from Shooter's World in Tampa on October 3. 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".

Authorities said mobile phone data indicated activities corresponding with the first three shootings on October 9, 11 and 19. The casings in the fourth attack were not available for comparison, the report said, but had been previously identified as being fired from the same weapon as the first three.

The report also said police found clothing inside Donaldson's car which was similar to that worn by a person captured in surveillance video on the night of the first shooting.

"We had a community that was on edge," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said on Wednesday. "Today the light shines. The darkness is over. This community begins the healing process."


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