Howell ‘Trai’ Donaldson III: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

A St. John’s University graduate who formerly worked for the New York Mets, Adidas and the NBA is being charged with four counts of first-degree murder in a string of shootings that terrorized Tampa, police announced.

The city’s Seminole Heights neighborhood had been on edge for more than a month as a “ruthless” serial killer claimed the lives of four people. Howell ‘Trai’ Donaldson III, 24, was taken into custody at a McDonald’s restaurant on East 13th Avenue in Ybor City before 5 p.m. on November 28. Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan told the media in the initial aftermath of the arrest, “I am optimistic on this one but time will tell.”

Donaldson worked at a local McDonald’s and is a Tampa native.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said, “It’s been 51 days and it’s time for Seminole Heights to have a good night’s rest.”

More details about the case are set to be released Wednesday. A $110,000 reward had been offered for information that led to the arrest of the Seminole Heights serial killer. It’s unclear if that reward money will be given to someone. Authorities had earlier said that over 5,000 tips had been received in relation to the case. Buckhorn said in announcing Donaldson’s arrest, “Goodness has won. Light has won.” Chief Dugan said the day after the arrest, “[Donaldson] admitted to owning the gun but he couldn’t tell us why he did this… we’re not sure why he chose Seminole Heights.”

On October 9, Benjamin Mitchell, 22, was murdered while waiting for a bus on North 15th street and Frierson Avenue in Seminole Heights. On October 13, Monica Hoffa, 32, was found dead on the 1000 block of New Orleans Avenue. Her body was located in a vacant lot nearby. On October 19, Anthony Naiboa, 20, was killed along 15th street and Wilder Avenue. On November 14, Ronald Felton, 60, was found deceased at around 5 a.m. on North Nebraska Avenue and East McBerry Street. All of the victims had been shot dead.

Here’s what you need to know:


1. Donaldson Asked His Manager at McDonald’s to Hold His Loaded 9mm While He Went to Take Out a Loan, Police Say

Donaldson drove to the McDonald’s in a red Ford Mustang, that’s thought belong to the suspect’s father, that was taped off by police in the restaurant parking lot. Police were seen to be taking a suitcase from the car. The Tampa Bay Times reports that Donaldson has no criminal record in Florida. The red Mustang has two speeding tickets associated with it, one of which belonged to someone who worked at McDonald’s.

An employee at the McDonald’s restaurant where Donaldson was arrested told the Tampa Bay Times that the suspect had worked at the location for four months. That employee, Gail Rogers, said that on November 28, Donaldson handed a loaded 9mm to a manager, asking him to hold it. Donaldson is thought to have bought the gun at Shooters World on East Fletcher Avenue in Tampa. A manager there told ABC Tampa’s Lauren Rozyla-Wong that Donaldson had been a “one time customer,” that the suspect submitted to a background check and passed and that he waited three days to get his gun.

Rogers told the Times that Donaldson then went to a nearby Amscot to get a payday loan. Rogers and her manager then alerted a police officer who was in the McDonald’s. That cop radioed for backup. Multiple officers were waiting for Donaldson when he returned from the Amscot.

The Tampa Police Department had described the suspect in the aftermath of the Felton killing as a black male who is between 6-feet and 6-feet-2 tall, thin build, light complexion, armed with a large black pistol and wearing all black clothing. That same police statement said that perimeter was set up around the area where Ronald Felton had been killed, along Nebraska Avenue between Hillsborough Avenue and Osborne Avenue, as officers felt the killer lived in a nearby home. Ybor City is about four miles south of Seminole Heights.

https://twitter.com/RyanReports/status/935726851720433665/video/1

Police did not provide much information at the late night press conference Tuesday where they announced the charges against Donaldson.

“Unfortunately I will not have the answers that you want,” Chief Brian Dugan told reporters. “This is an ongoing situation.”

Dugan praised those who came forward with information, saying, “Someone stepped up and did the right thing, and that’s what we needed.”

Mayor Bob Buckhorn told reporters, “Justice will occur when this individual rots in hell. Tonight, we’re about to bring justice to someone who doesn’t deserve to walk amongst us.”

Prosecutors haven’t commented about the case yet and it’s not clear if Donaldson could face the death penalty.

Mayor Buckhorn said the day after the arrest, “If he is found guilty, he should die, it’s that simple.”


2. Someone Who Attended High School With Donaldson Said ‘The Guy in the First Kill Moves EXACTLY Like Trai’

Howell Trai Donaldson St. John's

St. John’s

A person named Paco Rodriguez wrote on Twitter after Donaldson’s arrest was announced saying, “[Donaldson] played basketball at my high school with my brother and I. The guy in the videos of the first kill moves exactly like Trai.”

Howell Donaldson girlfriend

Twitter/Howell Donaldson

In 2011, Donaldson graduated from Alonso High School in Tampa. Donaldson played as a guard for the school’s varsity basketball team, according to Max Preps. Donaldson has a profile at St. John’s basketball webpage, that bio does not say if Donaldson ever played for the team. Donaldson had a separate profile while at St. John’s that explains that he uses the nickname Trai because he is third generation. He adds that he was raised in Tampa. Donaldson concludes by saying, “I love basketball and plan on walking on for St. John’s basketball team.” The New York Post’s Zach Braziller reports that Donaldson was a “walk-on in 2011-12. Never played or dressed. It was under previous staff.”

In a Twitter posting by Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker Anthony Chickillo, he and Donaldson are shown to be friends. Both attended Braulio Alonso High School in Tampa and are friends on Facebook.

Trai Donaldson Howell

St. John’s

According to his Facebook page, Donaldson was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. The page does not appear to have been updated since 2015 when Donaldson says he graduated from St. John’s University in New York. Donaldson says he attained a degree in computer science with a minor in sports management. At that time, Donaldson says he worked at a Finish Line shoe store.


3. The Donaldson Family Runs a Hair & Beauty School in Tampa

Rosita Donaldson Facebook page

Facebook/Rosita Donaldson

Donaldson is the son of Rosita and Howell Donaldson II. The couple have three children, two sons and a daughter, in total, according to post’s on Rosita Donaldson’s Facebook page.

Howell Donaldson Facebook page

The Donaldson family runs the Shear Excellence Hair Academy in Tampa. According to their website, Rosita Donaldson is the “President/CFO/Director/Instructor” and her husband, Howell Donaldson II, is the “Vice President/Operational Manager/Student Services.” The business describes itself as, “committed to excellence in Cosmetology, Nail Technology, and Restricted Barber. Shear Excellence Hair Academy being and accredited academy – is an academy with goals to meet high standards of performance. We currently meet a successful passing rate for the State Board Examination, and offer placement assistance to graduates.” Donaldson worked at the school as an assistant between May and September 2015.


4. Donaldson Used the Phrase ‘Killin’ the Competition’ as a Catchphrase

Trai Donaldson Facebook page

Facebook/Trai Donaldson

Posts from Donaldson’s Facebook page from 2010 and 2011 show him saying, “Killin’ the Competition,” at the end of each posting.

According to his LinkedIn page, Donaldson is “a natural born leader, that takes great pride in originality. A professional that executes on all levels; motivated by great heights of opportunity. Currently establishing myself for a career in the Sport World.” The page says that up until May 2017, Donaldson had been working as a Classroom Support Specialist at the Ultimate Medical Academy in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area.

Howell Donaldson Facebook page

Facebook/Trai Donaldson

Prior to that Donaldson worked for the New York Mets at CitiField in New York City. Donaldson gives his job title as “Guest Experience Host.” His roles included scanning tickets for all members entering the field and private VIP clubs. During his time at St. John’s, Donaldson worked as a student marketing assistant for the school, a conference services facilities assistant and a campus recreation student worker. In February 2015, Donaldson worked at an event for the NBA. While between February 2013 and May 2015 Donaldson worked at an Adidas store in New York City.


5. Benjamin Mitchell’s Parents Sent Him to Live in Tampa So He Would Grow Up in a Safe Environment

Benjamin Mitchell WFLA mURDER

Screengrab via WFLABenjamin Mitchell.

The Tampa PD says that Benjamin Mitchell was shot once at around 9 p.m. on October 9 while he waited for a bus close to where he lives. Mitchell died at a local hospital. Authorities say that they believe Mitchell was on his own. His aunt, Angie Dupree, told Fox Tampa Bay that Mitchell was at the bus stop to ensure his girlfriend got home safe. Dupree said, “He was either going to pick her up or was waiting on her to get out the bus because he didn’t want her to walk home alone. You can’t say that about a lot of kids, but you can literally say this about him: he was a good kid.”

Angie Dupree told Fox Tampa Bay, “This is so crazy. I can’t believe that someone took my nephew for no good reason at all. You got away with nothing. You took a child’s life for no reason at all because you didn’t get anything.” Dupree explained that Mitchell was born in California and lived in Las Vegas for a time. His parents sent him to live with Dupree and her husband so that he could grow up in a safe environment.

Police spokesperson Steve Hegarty told Fox Tampa Bay that Mitchell was a like a “boy scout” with no criminal record. Mitchell was a full-time business management student at Hillsborough Community College and was an aspiring musician, according to his obituary.

According to the Tampa Police Department, Ronald Felton was crossing a street at around 5 a.m. to meet someone when the suspect shot him from behind, killing him. Felton’s sister, Tina, told the Tampa Bay Times about the last time she saw her brother saying, “I was driving and pulled over. I told him, ‘You know all the mess going on in these areas. I want you to be careful.'” Tina Felton added, “I said, “You be careful to keep an eye out for what is going around. We don’t want to have a funeral like these other families.’ He said, ‘Ain’t gonna be me. If anything happens to me, I love ya.”

Tina Felton also said that Ronald Felton was a twin, with a brother named Reggie. Although the two had been in trouble during their lives, since 2007 both had found religion. They were regularly seen handing out food at a local food bank. Tina Felton says her brother “was a quiet, peaceful person who would not bother anyone. He was the type of person who would give you the shirt off his back.”

Monica Hoffa Facebook page

Facebook/Robert Hoffa

A City of Tampa worker discovered Monica Hoffa’s body at around 9 a.m. on October 13, reports the Tampa Bay Times. Her stepmother, Dawn Hoffa, told the newspaper:

I spoke to her eight months ago. She seemed to be having problems, and I told her she could come movve in with us. This is so awful.

Initial reports of Hoffa’s death didn’t mention her cause of death, referring to her body as being found with “upper body trauma.” A local resident told the Tampa Bay Times that she heard five shots around the time of Hoffa’s killing.

Monica Hoffa Facebook page

Facebook/Monica Hoffa

WFLA, Hoffa’s last official address was on Pittsfield Avenue in Tampa, though she was not living there at the time of her death. According to Hoffa’s Facebook page, she was in a relationship with a man named Derek Reber.

“Monica was a wonderful person, a free spirit, had a smile that would brighten up any room. She loved poetry and she loved talking to her brothers and sisters and nieces,” Kenny Hoffa, Monica’s father, told WFLA-TV. “I want to look at that man’s eyes and ask him how he could do something so terrible to my daughter.”

Anthony Naiboa’s father, Casimar, told WFLA that his son was autistic. Casimar Naiboa said that Anthony took the wrong bus home due to a cancellation and that his son ended up in a neighborhood he wasn’t familiar with. He added that his son was striving to become more independent and dreamed of getting his driver’s license. Naiboa’s parents fear that his son’s condition may have made him “an easy target.”

Speaking to WTSP, Naiboa’s stepmother, Maria Rodriguez, talked about joining others in their community to search for the killer. “We’re trying to have justice for our son. We’re speaking out because we need justice. This needs to stop.”

Rodriguez later told WFTS that her family had started a scholarship fund in Naiboa’s name to help those who have also been diagnosed with autism.


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27 Comments

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27 Comments

Anonymous

It seems somewhat strange. They want to speed this case. A new police chief, a mayor that is not being reelected. Everyone wants to rush through this case. I’m sorry parents are parents and they are suffering through this ordeal just as much as the other parents. Why has there not been any news about what evidence they have found? I like our mayor Bob Buckhorn, IMO he was very insensitive to the state if found guilty he should die, with no consideration for the parents. This is someones, son, brother, nephew, uncle, friend. We all know if he did do this unspeakable crime he will more than likely be sentenced to death. Though if he were sentenced to life if he is guilty he will have time to think for the rest of his entire life.

Reply
JCD

“Me and Lames just don’t mix” Fall Back….Killing the Competition. This post says it all. This vile, spoiled, entitled fool thought he was invincible.

Reply
Samhain

LMAO at his facebook posts from 2011. One guy said “Stop killin people”. Thats funny right there. I dont care who ya are :-)

Reply
Boss Hogg

Hang this jig right and proper.
Blacc amerika and killa cali or whatever you monkeys are calling each other these days, I’ve got plenty of rope for you mud turtles.
God damn spear chucking black bastards!

Reply
Anonymous

First of all he don’t look like the discription,light skin.Are you looking at because he’s Black. Tampa police need not have there guard down.When people see rewards that much they will turn there father in trust me.

Reply
Anonymous

Waiting for blacc amerika, killa cali, or mensa727 to weigh in. …surely they’re not at work…/s

Reply
Boss Hogg

LMFAO !!!!
They could be out cashing their welfare checks.
Oh wait, it’s not the 1st of the month,
So them monkeys are sitting on the porch.
Lazy jig bastards!

Reply
Anonymous

Makes no sense, college educated, yet works at McDonald’s and gives the gun he used to his manger to hold it. Why not leave it in the car or anywhere else, either the dumbest criminal ever or fake news.

Reply
Cathy Rooks

I suspect a false flag (with real victims). They have this man CONVICTED already without a trial.
I think he has been set up…just a feeling.

Reply
Anonymous

just sad and unbelievable. where did this behavior come from and why did he have to take the lives of these 4 ppl who had nothing to do with whatever he was going thru. and I agree the family pic or faces should have been blocked

Reply
Anonymous

All you goy cattle need to go $250k in debt to go a brain rinsing university to have some filthy neckbeard juden professor instruct you that only white men are serial killers.

Reply
Kenny Man

I am not sure what we have here…..A young adult with a gun in a backpack doesn’t necessarily mean anything unless the ballistics show it was used in the murders. As for the bravado and the self-promotion I don’t understand why that factors into anything other than the usual fantasy that young people seem to have about themselves and try to project in their social media pages.

I imagine there is more to this story than has been reported and I would be very interested in seeing how this turns out because from where the published data takes us it is still a big leap for me to conflate Mr. Hip Hop Self-Promoter with a serial killer alter ego.

Reply
chris long

Nothing the cops say adds up thus far. Very vague as to why they say this is the guy. Short on hard evidence, long on wishful thinking.

Reply
Read this

1. The major sounds like a reckless idiot. All this moral blah-blah is not nessecary and could create a lynch mob mentality. I hate incompetent leaders.

2. This man is a suspect and deserves due process. Just because it’s being claimed that he showed up to work with a gun, doesnt mean he’s the killer. That has to be proven.

3. A fellow said that he showed up to work with a back pack and told his manager to hold it and not look inside, while he went to a check cashing place. This has yet to be confirmed by police, but if it’s true, then this leads me to believe this person is probably mentally ill…what murder or killer leads a weapon with someone and says, don’t look in the bag? It just strikes me as something a person whos not thinking completely logically would do. With that being said, he still deserves no process…if it is determined that he’s the guy, I wouldnt be surprised if he’s mentally ill…schizo is my hunch.

Reply
Anonymous

He doesn’t necessarily fit the description but they quick to pin it on him….he far from light skinned. I am not convinced they have the right guy. They just looking for any black to put it on. Being black with a gun isn’t grounds for a guilty verdict… Read the description of what was given about the suspect.. then look at the guy common sense

Reply
Mike Gulliver

I agree that this type of reaction by authorities is counterproductive and extremely ill-advised. Rather than using this witchcraft jargon like “evil” and “rot in hell”, they should convey a sense of formal process that reflects the law. To start, they should take a cool-headed approach, regardless of how certain they are about evidence “behind the scenes” (this seems to be the case, at least on the surface).

At any rate, nothing that has been posted in this article is any indicator of abnormal behavior in the past. “Killin the competition” in 2011? Give me a break, guys…what a reach…

Reply
Anonymous

Maybe he wanted to be caught. It happens. And that cops will not tell the public what all they know, not should they, for either sides sake.

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Anonymous

Guess working at fast food after being a high school basketball star was just was too much to handle. Feel so sorry for the victims. Especially the autistic child.

Reply
None

Dude shutup! Always some closet racist looking to make everything about race. I’ve seen like 10 different pictures of this dude online so how can you say his race isn’t being said? It’s literally being shown… Worry about the next mass shooting why don’t you.

Reply
Fraw Man Sir

You gotta admit the guy has some big, bongo lips there lol. Slap on the cologne they wear, Eau de Doo Dah Day and his cover is complete!! Lol
Ooh ooh aah aah

Reply
Anonymous

Its kind of hard to believe. He seems so normal and I don’t quite understand the whole gun at McDs thing…. I’m assuming TampaPD got some tips they aren’t disclosing ?? I mean Idk why they are optimistic. What’s the motive?

Reply
Anonymous

DID y’all have to put the whole family online. This already devastating news for their family and now you bring them in. They didn’t kill anyone now that’s gonna hurt their business. All because of guilty by association. Y’all should be ashamed!!!

Reply

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