4th person slain amid search for apparent serial killer: ‘This has got to stop’
The man “killed in cold blood” on a Tampa, Florida, street early this morning had been shot from behind in a case authorities say may be related to a string of unsolved slayings that has left a community on edge.
“This has got to stop,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said today in an emotional plea at a news conference. “We will hunt this person down until we find them.”
Police are investigating the slaying in the beleaguered Seminole Heights neighborhood where three people were shot to death in a span of 11 days in October.
“We are treating it as although it is related until we rule otherwise,” interim Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan told reporters this morning.
Authorities have identified the latest victim as Ronald Felton, 60, who was supposed to “meet up with someone” when he was apparently targeted and killed, Dugan said.
“Someone came up from behind and shot him,” he said. “And he was left [on] the street.”
The suspect in this case has been identified as a slim black man, 6 to 6-foot-2, with light complexion and armed with a large black pistol, while last seen wearing all black clothing, authorities said.
“We do have a witness that we have been discussing [what happened],” Dugan said. “When I spoke to her she said, ‘If our officer had been five seconds earlier, he would’ve been able to stop it.’”
Police arrived “within seconds” of the 911 calls that were placed before 5 a.m., Dugan said.
Solving the killings has become personal, Mayor Buckhorn said, as he lamented having to bring bad news to Felton’s family.
“There will be one more family today that will be notified of a family member that was killed in cold blood,” Buckhorn said.
He said he believes police can stop the bloodshed.
“We need to catch this killer before we need to notify one more family that one of their loved ones is dead,” Buckhorn said.
The Tampa Police Department’s Twitter account alerted the public that an “active investigation” was underway, using the hashtag “#TRAFFIC.”
The homicide follows a string of three unsolved killings within blocks of each other days before Halloween and near a bus-line route where two of the victims had been commuting. Police say they believe those three killings were committed by the same person.
Resident Phyllis Gaines and her terrier poodle Buster were stirred awake this morning by what she thought was a neighbor taking out the trash, she said.
But it was deadly gunfire.
“It was maybe three or four [shots],” she told ABC News. “I was in my bedroom and I heard the shoots and I looked out from the living room and there were cops all over the corner.
“All you saw was red and blue lights flashing and the crime scene tape.”
The high school sign language teacher said she was forced “on lockdown” in her own home as police taped off her driveway on the corner of East McBerry Street.
Gaines exchanged text messages with neighbors who, like her, were in their homes looking on as cops tried to stop the terror outside their doors.
“It’s very scary and quite stressful,” she said. “I think we’re all on edge at this point.”
The first victim was 22-year-old Benjamin Mitchell, who attended George S. Middleton High School. He was shot and killed steps from his home while waiting for a bus at North 15th Street at Frierson Avenue Oct. 9.
Two days later, 32-year-old Monica Hoffa, who police say died October 11, was found slain a half-mile from Mitchell, officials confirmed.
Then on Oct. 19, Anthony Naiboa, a 20-year-old man with autism, was killed in the southeast Seminole Heights neighborhood while taking the wrong bus home from work.
The young man, who was waiting at a bus stop located at North 15th Street at Frierson Avenue, died steps away from his home
All three earlier killings remain unsolved.
Early on, police released pixelated photos of a slender individual wearing pants and a hooded windbreaker, initially walking near one of the crime scenes and then picking up the pace to a sprint.
“We believe this is the same person we saw walking just moments earlier,” Dugan, the police chief, said during a news conference last month, adding the person of interest likely has ties to the neighborhood.
“He is running in the other direction … We believe this is the same person, once again, running away from the scene of the shooting.”
In subsequently released surveillance video recordings that were released by police, the same individual is seen flipping and repeatedly staring at a cell phone with the right hand.