News & Politics

Suspected Tampa Serial Killer Worked at McDonald's; Attended St. John's University

The man suspected in the serial killings that terrorized a Tampa neighborhood for two months worked at a McDonald’s — and on the day of his arrest, brought a loaded gun to work in a McDonald’s bag.

Over a period of 51 days, four people were randomly shot and killed by the suspect, 24-year-old Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, putting the whole city on edge.

Donaldson was arrested at the McDonald’s after police received a tip about the gun — the same gun that was used in the four killings, according to authorities.

The suspect, who had previously attended St. John’s University in New York City, reportedly brought a loaded .40-caliber Glock to the restaurant and asked a co-worker to hold it while he was getting a payday loan. 

According to Donaldson’s arrest affidavit, he stated he wanted to leave Florida.

The employee quickly informed her manager about the gun. The manager then alerted a Tampa police officer who happened to be enjoying some fast food at a table in the restaurant.

When Donaldson returned to work, police were waiting for him and took him into custody, according to the arrest report.

Donaldson admitted that he owned the gun but did not admit to the killings, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said at a news conference. Dugan said there was “no apparent motive” to explain the murder spree.

“He was cooperative, but did not tell us why he was doing this,” he said.

Dugan praised the employee who tipped off the police.

“The person who called us, I cannot thank them enough for standing up and doing the right thing and saying ‘this doesn’t seem right, why does this person have a gun in a bag?'” Dugan told reporters.

The police chief said the Glock was the missing evidence authorities needed to solve the case, in addition to the surveillance video of the suspect leaving the scene of one of the killings.

The tip about the gun is “what we needed,” Dugan said at a news conference surrounded by the victims’ family members.

According to the police report, Donaldson told detectives he was not familiar with the Seminole Heights neighborhood where the shootings occurred and didn’t associate with anyone who lives there.

But all of the preliminary information, “from the clothing found in his car, from the gun, and from his cell phone — all correspond to the dates, the times of those four murders,” Fox News reported.

“Donaldson was a walk-on for the university’s basketball team in 2011-12, but never played in a game,” the New York Daily News reported.

He studied sports management and in 2016 he allegedly worked as a “guest experience host” for the Mets, according to his LinkedIn page.

He was arrested at least once during his NYC stint, but the 2014 case in Manhattan is sealed, a police source said.

According to the NY Daily News, Donaldson graduated from St. John’s back in January.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said during an interview with “Good Day Tampa Bay”: “The individual made a mistake. He gave that gun to somebody who has a conscience. He could have been gone today.”

He continued: “Today, the good guys won  Today, Seminole Heights can sleep.” The mayor added: “There are four families who will never repair the damage and never repair the fact that their heart was ripped from their chests, but they are starting to get closure now.”

Governor Rick Scott thanked the police for their good work and said his heart goes out to the community.

“I was in Seminole Heights a week ago with the mayor and the police chief and talked to some of the families,” the governor said. “The people around the community, their hearts are broken. These people love their community. It’s a wonderful area. My heart goes out to these poor families  But I’m so happy that this individual was caught and somebody else did not get hurt.”