How a Macca’s employee stopped an alleged serial killer

AN ALLEGED serial killer accused of terrorising a Florida suburb and shooting dead four people over 51 days, was caught after an extraordinary incident at a McDonald's restaurant, authorities have revealed.

The break in the case came on Tuesday when Howell Emanuel Donaldson, 24, brought a bag containing a loaded handgun to his job at a Tampa McDonald's and asked a co-worker to hold it while he went across the street.

The colleague was rattled and when Donaldson left, handed the bag over to the manager, who handed it to a police officer who was doing paperwork at the restaurant.

The cop, identified as Officer Randi Whitney, called for backup and by the time Donaldson had returned from his errand, police were waiting.

"The gun is what we needed," Tampa police chief Brian Dugan said at a news conference surrounded by relatives of the victims earlier today.

Suspected serial killer Howell Emanuel Donaldson III in his November 29 mugshot. Picture: Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Suspected serial killer Howell Emanuel Donaldson III in his November 29 mugshot. Picture: Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office

A person identified as "Witness 3" approached the officer to tell them that his co-worker, Donaldson, gave them a "McDonald's food bag" and said he planned to leave the state, according to a criminal report affidavit filed early today in Florida's Hillsborough County, ABC News reported.

Inside the bag was a .40-caliber Glock firearm loaded with SIG brand Smith and Wesson ammunition - the same weapon used in a string of mysterious slayings over the past six weeks in the suburb of Seminole Heights, officials said.

The arrest overnight brought relief to a community left terrified about when the killer would strike next.

The first shooting happened October 9, followed by two more shooting deaths on October 11 and October 19. By Halloween, the fear was so great that police escorted children while trick-or-treating. The fourth killing happened on November 14.

"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 Seminole Heights where the shootings occurred and told investigators he was unfamiliar with it, AP reported.

He graduated from St. Johns University in New York in January 2017, according to university 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, Mr Browne said.

The Ybor City McDonald's where suspected Seminole Heights serial killer Howell Donaldson, 24 worked as crew chief. Picture: Supplied
The Ybor City McDonald's where suspected Seminole Heights serial killer Howell Donaldson, 24 worked as crew chief. Picture: Supplied

After graduating, he worked in customer support at the Ultimate Medical Academy, a school that trains workers for health care jobs. He started there on February 13, working for about three months before he was fired for absenteeism, according to an academy spokesman.

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 when approached by AP for comment.

Police in New York said Donaldson had been arrested in May 2014, but the arrest was sealed and no details were available.

He was employed as crew chief at the Ybor City McDonald's at the time of his arrest and reportedy told detectives he was unfamiliar with nearby Seminole Heights area where the shootings occurred.

"The person who called us, I cannot thank them enough for standing up and doing the right thing," Chief Dugan said.

Authorities said Donaldson bought the gun and a 20-round box of bullets from Shooter's World in Tampa on October 3. 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".

Analysis of Donaldson's mobile phone found location data that indicated three days of recorded times and activities corresponding with the first three shootings.

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

An undated photo of suspected serial killer Howell Emanuel Donaldson, 24. Picture: Tampa Police Department via AP
An undated photo of suspected serial killer Howell Emanuel Donaldson, 24. Picture: Tampa Police Department via AP

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

Residents and police had been on edge since October 9, when Benjamin Mitchell, 22, was shot to death.

On October 11, Monica Hoffa, 32, was slain. And on October 19, Anthony Naiboa, 20, was killed after taking the wrong bus home from his new job. The fourth and final shooting took place on November 14, claiming the life of Ronald Felton, 60.

All of the October victims were either getting on or off a city bus, or were at a bus stop when they were shot, police said.



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