Former St. John’s basketball player arrested in Tampa serial murders

Former St. John’s basketball player arrested in Tampa serial murders
Howell Emanuel Donaldson
By Gina Martinez

A 2017 St. John’s University graduate who was on the men’s basketball team has been charged with four murders in a six-week killing spree that terrorized Tampa, officials said.

Howell Donaldson III, 24 was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in four homicides over a six-week period in the Seminole Heights area of central Tampa, police said.

According to the New York Post, Donaldson was arrested after police received a tip from one of his McDonald’s co-workers that he had brought a 40-caliber Glock firearm into work. The employee told officers that Donaldson gave the weapon to him to hold onto while he applied for a loan at a nearby check-cashing store. Once Donaldson left the fast food joint, the manager alerted a police officer in the restaurant, the Post reported.

The officer called for backup and once additional officers arrived, they took Donaldson into custody for questioning.

St. John’s released a statement Wednesday morning that Donaldson had graduated from the Jamaica Estates university, reportedly with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Management.

“We can confirm that Howell Donaldson III attended the university beginning in the fall of 2011 and graduated in January 2017,” the school said. “He was a walk-on student-athlete for the men’s basketball team during the 2011–2012 season but never played in a game.”

Donaldson moved to Florida in January to work in a Tampa-based Ultimate Medical Academy. The academy confirmed his employment from Feb. 13 to May 2, working in a customer support role.

“Donaldson was terminated for absenteeism,” UMA said in a statement. “Per UMA hiring policy, Donaldson passed a background check prior to employment. UMA has reached out to the Tampa Police Department to offer our assistance.

“Like everyone in Tampa we are relieved to learn there has been an arrest in this case and our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the families of the victims.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the city “has now spent the last 51 days dealing with a serial killer” and added if Donaldson is found to be guilty, “he should die. It’s that simple.”

Tampa police said Donaldson faces four counts of premeditated murder. The victims included three men and one woman.

Police said on Oct. 9 Benjamin Mitchell was shot four times at approximately 9 p.m. while waiting for a bus. A few days later on Oct. 13 Monica Hoffa was found shot to death in an overgrown lot. A week later on Oct. 19 at 7:57 p.m. Anthony Naiboa was shot and killed by a single gunshot wound to his head in the driveway of a local residence and on Nov.14 at 4:50 a.m. Ronald Felton was shot and killed while crossing the street.

Police said the Smith and Wesson .40 caliber cartridge casings were recovered at all four crime scenes and all four murders took place in the Southeast Seminole Heights neighborhood. Police said analysis of the casings recovered confirmed the same gun was used to shoot all four victims.

According to the Post, Donaldson admitted to buying the glock 40 on Oct. 3 at Shooter’s World in Tampa. The Post reported that receipts showed Donaldson returned four days later to pick up the gun, after a mandatory waiting period, along with a 20-round box of Smith & Wesson .40-caliber ammo.

Police said Donaldson’s phone records showed he was in the vicinity during the murders and clothing found in his trunk matched what was seen in surveillance footage after the Mitchell murder.

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart[email protected]cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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