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Suspected serial killer arrested after bringing murder weapon to his job at McDonald's

Howell Emanuel Donaldson is charged with four murders which spanned 51 days.

Howell Emanuel Donaldson
Howell Emanuel Donaldson
Image: Tampa Police Department/AP

A RECENT COLLEGE graduate who was charged in four slayings that terrorised a Tampa neighbourhood over the past 51 days used the same gun in all of the shootings and targeted people near bus stops with “no apparent motive,” a police chief said today.

The crack in the case came yesterday when Howell Emanuel Donaldson, 24, brought a bag with a loaded handgun in it to his job at a McDonald’s and asked a co-worker to hold it while he went across the street, authorities said.

Restaurant workers thought that was odd and when Donaldson left, they reported the gun to a police officer who was doing paperwork there, setting off an investigation that linked Donaldson to the shootings. Aside from matching shell casings at the shootings, authorities said location data from Donaldson’s cellphone put him at the scene of at least three of the killings.

“The gun is what we needed,” Police Chief Brian Dugan said at a news conference surrounded by family members of the victims.

The arrest overnight brought relief to an anxious community worried about a serial killer. The first shooting happened 9 October, followed by two more shooting deaths. By Halloween, the fear was so great that police escorted children while trick-or-treating.

The fourth killing happened earlier this month.

“We had a community that was on edge,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn said.

“Today the light shines. The darkness is over. This community begins the healing process.”

Donaldson did not live in the Seminole Heights neighbourhood where the shootings occurred and told investigators he was unfamiliar with it. Arrest records don’t list an attorney and the police chief said he didn’t know if he had a lawyer yet. He’s scheduled for a first court appearance hearing tomorrow.

Tip

Brian Dugan Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan holds a news conference in a parking lot behind the Ybor City McDonalds. Source: Octavio Jones/Tampa Bay Times via AP

The tip that led police to him came from one of his co-workers at an Ybor City McDonald’s, which is near the Seminole Heights neighbourhood.

Donaldson asked an employee at the restaurant to hold a bag with a .40-caliber gun while he went to a nearby business to get a payday loan, according to an arrest report.

The employee told her manager about the gun and the manager alerted a Tampa police officer at a table in the restaurant.

When Donaldson returned to the McDonald’s, police were waiting.

“The person who called us, I cannot thank them enough for standing up and doing the right thing,” the chief said.

Donaldson bought the gun and a 20-round box of bullets from Shooter’s World in Tampa on 3 October. He picked it up after the four-day waiting period and the first killing happened two days after that.

Authorities said a search of Donaldson’s cellphone found location data that indicated three days of recorded times and activities corresponding with the first three shootings on 9, 11 and 19 October.

The arrest report said police found clothing inside Donaldson’s car that was similar to what was worn by a person spotted in surveillance video taken the night of the first shooting.

The police chief said authorities have not been able to determine why Donaldson chose the Seminole Heights neighbourhood.

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