TAMPA, Fla. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The suspect in a string of fatal shootings that terrorized a Tampa neighborhood was ordered held without bond.
During a first appearance hearing before Tampa Judge Margaret R. Taylor on Thursday morning, 24-year-old Howell Emanuel Donaldson III stood silently as the judge discussed the charges with his attorneys and prosecutors.
Donaldson is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of four people in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in October and November.
Family members of the victims, some wearing Seminole Heights shirts, watched from the courtroom. Donaldson appeared via video from the Hillsborough County Jail. He was shackled and wore a sleeveless, blue padded anti-suicide vest. Two bailiffs held him by the arms during the hearing.
Taylor set a Tuesday hearing to determine whether he will be held without bond until his trial.
Donaldson was arrested Tuesday after he asked a co-worker at a McDonald’s restaurant to hold a bag carrying a gun, authorities said.
The co-worker looked inside the bag, spotted the weapon and approached a Tampa police officer who was sitting in the restaurant doing paperwork. When Donaldson returned to the McDonald’s, police were waiting.
The arrest brought immense relief to the Seminole Heights neighborhood, where many outdoor activities had stopped since the first death Oct. 9. Two more fatal shootings happened in the weeks that followed, and residents were so scared that police escorted children while they trick-or-treated. The fourth killing happened in November.
“Relief. Sadness. I think it’s a slew of emotions,” said Brittany Lott, who said she hasn’t walked her dogs in 51 days, choosing to spend time in the backyard instead.
Donaldson bought the gun and a 20-round box of bullets from Shooter’s World in Tampa on Oct. 3, authorities said. 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.” A police report said the gun matched shell casings in three of the four homicides.
“The gun is what we needed,” Police Chief Brian Dugan said at a news conference surrounded by family members of the victims.
The casings in the fourth homicide weren’t available for comparison, the report said, but had been previously identified as being fired from the same firearm as the first three.
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 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.
Donaldson did not live in the Seminole Heights neighborhood where the shootings occurred and the police said authorities have not been able to determine why Donaldson chose the area.
Dugan said Donaldson has been cooperative and friendly to officers, but hasn’t shed any light on why he committed the crimes or picked the victims.
Arrest records didn’t list an attorney for Donaldson and the police chief said he didn’t know if he had a lawyer yet.
Donaldson attended St. John’s University in Queens starting in the fall of 2011 and graduated in January 2017, according to school spokesman Brian Browne. He was a walk-on for the men’s basketball team during the 2011-12 season, but never played in a game, Browne said.
The NYPD said he had been arrested in 2014 for a minor crime, but the arrest was sealed. NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said police will go back through cold cases to see whether Donaldson could be linked to any crimes in New York.
“We’ve taken that name and started working on our cases as well to see if he’s involved in anything up here,” Boyce said, adding that he would also like ballistics results of the gun used in the Tampa killings to see if the weapon matches any unsolved crimes in New York.
After graduating from college, Donaldson worked in customer support at the Ultimate Medical Academy, a school that trains workers for health care 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 McDonald’s when he was arrested.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)