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Seminole Heights suspect charged with 4 counts of murder

Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, 24, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder.
Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, 24, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder.

TAMPA, Fla. – Until Wednesday afternoon, the hunt for the suspected serial killer in Seminole Heights proved to be an exhausting one, with the elusive murderer stealthily slipping away into the night after each of the four cold-blooded murders in southeast Seminole Heights.

Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, 24, is charged with four counts of felony first-degree murder in the killings of Benjamin Edward Mitchell on Oct. 9, Monica Caridad Hoffa on Oct. 11, Anthony Naiboa on Oct. 19 and Ronald Felton on Nov. 14.

"For the community's safety, we will be seeking that the defendant be held without bond," the State Attorney's Office said in a statement.

Read the police affidavit: Why Tampa police think they have their suspect

More: Who is the Seminole Heights murder suspect?

Tampa mayor: If Seminole Heights murder suspect found guilty, 'he should die'

The case has puzzled investigators for almost two months until they received a tip leading to this moment. Authorities are holding Donaldson at the Hillsborough County jail without bond.

Donaldson is expected to appear before a judge Thursday.

Watch: Seminole Heights shooting suspect booked early Wednesday

Governor thanks Tampa police officers

Gov. Rick Scott visited the Tampa Police Department following the arrest.

Joined by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan, he thanked the department and national investigators for their work and expressed condolences to those familiar with the victims.

"My heart goes out to you {the victims' families}," Scott said. "What you do know, is that because of the hard work of law enforcement, justice will be served."

Scott said the state will prosecute Donaldson to the full extent of the law.

Dugan said Wednesday police do not expect any more arrests in the case.

Watch: Click or tap here to watch Gov. Scott's full news conference on Wednesday morning

Tampa mayor, police chief address Donaldson's arrest

Buckhorn and Dugan held a second news conference Wednesday morning separate from Gov. Scott's comments.

The press conference came just hours after Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan told reporters that investigators conducted a lengthy interview with Donaldson who appeared "pretty laid back" with a relaxed demeanor when he was arrested.

Donaldson's connection to the neighborhood where the murders happen remains unclear, Dugan said.

So, too, does a motive for the suspected crimes.

"He was cooperative but he did not tell us why he was doing this," Dugan told reporters. "We were really hoping to find out what was driving him to do this, we don’t have those answers yet.”

But Dugan said Donaldson did admit to owning the gun he curiously passed off to a co-worker Tuesday leading to the call to police, but did not confess to the killings.

"He was not turning himself in,"Dugan said when questioned about Donaldson's handling of the weapon.

“I don’t think he wanted to get caught when he handed the bag to a co-worker."

Dugan couldn't pinpoint any reason why Donaldson appeared to trust the co-worker enough to hand the bag with the gun in the first place.

The tip that lead to the .40-caliber Glock firearm loaded with SIG brand Smith and Wesson ammunition, Dugan said, was "the information we needed" to definitively link the four slayings. Dugan revealed for the first time publicly that investigators had been working all along with the knowledge that the same gun had been used to commit all four crimes.

Until Tuesday afternoon, Dugan said police had no prior contact with Donaldson but he offered emphatic reassurance that police had the right suspect.

"I’m 100 percent certain," he said. "We wouldn’t arrest somebody if we didn’t think they were the ones who did it, especially in a case like this.”

Dugan said police do not expect any more arrests in the case.

"If he is found to be guilty, he {Donaldson} should die," Buckhorn said.

Watch: Tampa police chief, mayor speak Wednesday on Seminole Heights arrest

Suspect arrested at Ybor City McDonald's

After a tip from a McDonald’s worker led to Donaldson’s arrest, he was booked at the Orient Road Jail early Wednesday morning.

Donaldson was taken into custody Tuesday afternoon at a McDonald’s at 2101 E. 13th Ave. in Ybor City after another employee said he handed a gun to a manager.

A police affidavit said Donaldson was an employee at the McDonald’s in Ybor City.

“We're cooperating fully with the investigation and defer all further questions to the Tampa Police Department at this time," said McDonald's Ybor City owner J.C. Prado in a written statement.

Watch: Tampa police arrest Seminole Heights suspect

Timeline: Arrest made in string of Seminole Heights murders

Tampa police recover .40-caliber handgun

A Smith and Wesson .40-caliber handgun is listed on Donaldson’s jail records. An affidavit states Tampa police found Smith and Wesson .40-caliber cartridge casings at each of the four murder scenes.

Analysis from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives showed the same gun fired the cartridge casings from all four murder scenes. The affidavit states the gun used was a Glock .40.

On Tuesday, a worker at the McDonald’s on 13th Avenue in Ybor City reported to police that Donaldson handed over a food bag with the same type of gun inside. The gun was loaded with five unfired rounds of SIG brand Smith and Wesson .40-caliber ammunition.

Donaldson told the employee he was leaving town and not to open the bag before he left.

The McDonald’s worker checked the bag and called the police.

Another worker spoke about noticing similarities between Donaldson and the surveillance video police released after the murders.

“It’s a sad thing because we had this guy in your kitchen, you know? And everybody was spooked by him because he was strange,” Gale Rogers said. “Now, I took a picture of the sketch and took it to him in his face; he didn't like that."

Donaldson legally purchased the Glock firearm on Oct. 3 from Shooters World on East Fletcher Avenue. He picked it up on Oct. 7 after the mandatory waiting period, according to the affidavit. He also purchased a 20-round box of SIG brand Smith and Wesson ammunition on Oct. 7, according to the affidavit.

Donaldson's phone records

AT&T phone records show Donaldson's cellphone was pinged in the location of the three Seminole Heights murders on Oct. 9, Oct. 11, and Oct. 19, according to the affidavit.

Donaldson's cellphone, "was geographically associated with the AT&T cell tower providing coverage for the areas that include all the homicide locations," according to the affidavit.

When investigators searched Donaldson's phone, they noticed a location in the 1300 block of E. Frierson Avenue, which is steps away from several of the murder scenes. That location only came up on the dates and times people were killed: Oct. 9, Oct.11 and Oct. 19.

Each time, Donaldson was in the area for less than 25 minutes.

Donaldson's car

A consensual search of Donaldson's red Fort Mustang led police to the recovery of clothing, which was similar to the clothing worn by the suspect in the Oct. 9 surveillance video, according to the affidavit. Police found a blood stain on an area of the clothing too.

"We did recover a hoodie and we recovered a jacket," Dugan said, referring to the finding as "encouraging."

"We still aren’t sure if that’s exactly it but if it walks like a duck."

Donaldson's background

Donaldson has asked to be represented by an attorney, according to the affidavit.

The New York City Police Department confirmed to CBS News that Donaldson was also arrested in 2014 in the borough of Manhattan. New York City police have not released details on the 2014 arrest.

Donaldson is a 2011 graduate of Alonso High School in Tampa. He attended St. John's University in Queens, New York, starting in fall 2011 and graduated in January 2017. Donaldson earned a degree in January 2017.

During the 2011-2012 season, Donaldson was a walk-on for the St. John's men's basketball team. Donaldson did not appear in a game.

The affidavit states Donaldson was born in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Photos: Seminole Heights shooting victims

Related: Gov. Rick Scott applauds law enforcement on Seminole Heights arrest

More: Seminole Heights resident, victim's relative react to arrest

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