A suspect is finally in custody after four people were murdered by a serial killer in a small Tampa neighborhood. Howell ‘Trai’ Donaldson III, was arrested on November 28. On October 9, Benjamin Mitchell, 22, was murdered while waiting for a bus on North 15th street and Frierson Avenue in Seminole Heights. On October 13, Monica Hoffa, 32, was found dead on the 1000 block of New Orleans Avenue. Her body was located in a vacant lot nearby. On October 19, Anthony Naiboa, 20, was killed along 15th street and Wilder Avenue. On November 14, Ronald Felton, 60, was found deceased at around 5 a.m. on North Nebraska Avenue and East McBerry Street. All of the victims had been shot dead.
A $110,000 reward had been offered for information that led to the arrest of the killer. Donaldson was taken into custody on day 51 of the search.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Suspect Had Been Described a ‘Thin, Light Complexioned Black Man’
Donaldson was taken into custody a McDonald’s restaurant on East 13th Avenue in Ybor City before 5 p.m. on November 28. Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan told the media in the initial aftermath, “I am optimistic on this one but time will tell.” Chief Dugan said that the tip said, “There is someone with a gun.” Chief Dugan added that a gun was recovered but that officers didn’t know “if it’s our gun.” Donaldson drove to the McDonald’s in a red Ford Mustang, that’s thought belong to the suspect’s father, that was taped off by police in the restaurant parking lot. Police were seen to be taking a suitcase from the car. The Tampa Bay Times reports that Donaldson has no criminal record in Florida. The red Mustang has two speeding tickets associated with it, one of which belonged to someone who worked at McDonald’s.
An employee at the McDonald’s restaurant where Donaldson was arrested told the Tampa Bay Times that the suspect had worked at the location for four months. That employee, Gail Rogers, said that on November 28, Donaldson handed a loaded 9mm to a manager, asking him to hold it.
Rogers told the Times that Donaldson then went to a nearby Amscot to get a payday loan. Rogers and her manager then alerted a police officer who was in the McDonald’s. That cop radioed for backup. Multiple officers were waiting for Donaldson when he returned from the Amscot.
The Tampa Police Department had described the suspect in the immediate aftermath of the Felton killing as a black male who is between 6-feet and 6-feet-2 tall, thin build, light complexion, armed with a large black pistol and wearing all black clothing. That same police statement said that perimeter was set up around the area where Ronald Felton had been killed, along Nebraska Avenue between Hillsborough Avenue and Osborne Avenue, as officers felt the killer lived in a nearby home. Ybor City is about four miles south of Seminole Heights.
2. Ronald Felton’s Sister Warned Him to Be Careful in Seminole Heights
According to the Tampa Police Department, Ronald Felton was crossing a street at around 5 a.m. to meet someone when the suspect shot him from behind, killing him. Felton’s sister, Tina, told the Tampa Bay Times about the last time she saw her brother saying, “I was driving and pulled over. I told him, ‘You know all the mess going on in these areas. I want you to be careful.’” Tina Felton added, “I said, “You be careful to keep an eye out for what is going around. We don’t want to have a funeral like these other families.’ He said, ‘Ain’t gonna be me. If anything happens to me, I love ya.”
Tina Felton also said that Ronald Felton was a twin, with a brother named Reggie. Although the two had been in trouble during their lives, since 2007 both had found religion. They were regularly seen handing out food at a local food bank. Tina Felton says her brother “was a quiet, peaceful person who would not bother anyone. He was the type of person who would give you the shirt off his back.”
3. The Last Time Monica Hoffa Spoke to Her Stepmother, Hoffa Was ‘Having Problems’
A City of Tampa worker discovered Monica Hoffa’s body at around 9 a.m. on October 13, reports the Tampa Bay Times. Her stepmother, Dawn Hoffa, told the newspaper:
I spoke to her eight months ago. She seemed to be having problems, and I told her she could come movve in with us. This is so awful.
Initial reports of Hoffa’s death didn’t mention her cause of death, referring to her body as being found with “upper body trauma.” A local resident told the Tampa Bay Times that she heard five shots around the time of Hoffa’s killing.
WFLA reports that Hoffa has multiple previous arrests. Her offenses include drug possession and a DUI. Her last official address was on Pittsfield Avenue in Tampa, according to the station, though she was not living there at the time of her death. According to Hoffa’s Facebook page, she was in a relationship with a man named Derek Reber.
4. Benjamin Mitchell’s Parents Sent Him to Live in Tampa So He Would Grow Up in a Safe Environment
Screengrab via WFLABenjamin Mitchell.
The Tampa PD says that Benjamin Mitchell was shot once at around 9 p.m. on October 9 while he waited for a bus close to where he lives. Mitchell died at a local hospital. Authorities say that they believe Mitchell was on his own. His aunt, Angie Dupree, told Fox Tampa Bay that Mitchell was at the bus stop to ensure his girlfriend got home safe. Dupree said, “He was either going to pick her up or was waiting on her to get out the bus because he didn’t want her to walk home alone. You can’t say that about a lot of kids, but you can literally say this about him: he was a good kid.”
Angie Dupree told Fox Tampa Bay, “This is so crazy. I can’t believe that someone took my nephew for no good reason at all. You got away with nothing. You took a child’s life for no reason at all because you didn’t get anything.” Dupree explained that Mitchell was born in California and lived in Las Vegas for a time. His parents sent him to live with Dupree and her husband so that he could grow up in a safe environment.
Police spokesperson Steve Hegarty told Fox Tampa Bay that Mitchell was a like a “boy scout” with no criminal record. Mitchell was a full-time business management student at Hillsborough Community College and was an aspiring musician, according to his obituary.
5. Anthony Naiboa Was Killed After Taking the Wrong Bus Home
Anthony Naiboa’s father, Casimar, told WFLA that his son was autistic. Casimar Naiboa said that Anthony took the wrong bus home due to a cancellation and that his son ended up in a neighborhood he wasn’t familiar with. He added that his son was striving to become more independent and dreamed of getting his driver’s license. Naiboa’s parents fear that his son’s condition may have made him “an easy target.”
Speaking to WTSP, Naiboa’s stepmother, Maria Rodriguez, talked about joining others in their community to search for the killer. “We’re trying to have justice for our son. We’re speaking out because we need justice. This needs to stop.”
Rodriguez later told WFTS that her family had started a scholarship fund in Naiboa’s name to help those who have also been diagnosed with autism.