A fourth person is dead in what Tampa police fear is the work of a serial killer.
Ronald Felton, 60, was shot and killed early Tuesday morning in Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood. He is the fourth person killed within the same mile-radius area since October 9. But now, for the first time, police have a description of the person they believe is murdering locals
Seminole Springs neighbors knew Felton as a helper. A New York native and a father of three, Felton regularly volunteered at a local food bank.
Felton was on his way to the food bank Tuesday morning, and was crossing the street when his killer approached him from behind, police said. A man in a nearby laundromat told the Tampa Bay Times that he heard five shots, and saw a man running from the scene. Felton died on the spot, just blocks from a memorial for three other people who had been mysteriously shot and killed in the neighborhood since October 9.
“I can’t believe it. I still can’t believe it Because he don’t bother nobody. All he does is try to help people all the time,” a local woman who knew Felton told Tampa’s ABC Action News. “They distribute food every Tuesday and Friday. He always comes up here to the church around 2:30, 3:00 to set up.”
The woman said other volunteers had seen a tall man dressed in black at the scene of the slaying.
“Today we got there within seconds of catching the shooter,” Tampa Police spokesperson Eddy Durkin said Tuesday. “We are asking people to report anything suspicious. It may be that little thing that allows us to catch this person.”
Other locals said the neighborhood was on a state of high alert.
“This really is quite terrifying because it’s edging closer to where we live,” Bert Shelor told The Daily Beast as a police helicopter circled overhead searching for the shooter at noon Tuesday. Shelor lives four blocks from the spot where Felton was killed.
"This has got to stop," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said at a Tuesday morning press conference. "We will hunt this person down until we find them."
At the press conference, police offered their first description of a suspect: a thin black man, approximately six feet tall, armed with a pistol. That description might match the surveillance footage of a man previously wanted for questioning in the first of the four murders.
On October 9, around 9 p.m., a man was filmed strolling the area, his face obscured by a hood. Around that same time, 22-year-old Benjamin Mitchell was waiting by a bus stop. Mitchell and his killer were the only ones on the street. When neighbors heard gunfire, they rushed to the bus stop, where they found Mitchell dying on the sidewalk. He hadn’t been robbed, and had no history that would suggest a premeditated attack, police said.
Two days later, less than a mile away, residents heard more gunshots. It would be two more days until locals found Monica Hoffa, 32, dead in a field less than a mile from the place of Mitchell’s death.
On October 19, mysterious nighttime gunshots claimed third victim: 20-year-old Anthony Naiboa. After Naiboa’s murder, police confirmed local fears of a serial killer.
"We think they're related. Through the proximity and the time frame, they are related," Tampa interim police chief Brian Dugan said in an October press conference after Naiboa’s murder. "There is no doubt in our minds about that."
Naiboa’s murder was similar to Mitchell’s. The two young, black men were shot and killed within 100 yards of each other. Naiboa, who was autistic, had just come from the same bus stop where Mitchell had been waiting. And Hoffa, the only female victim, was also a frequent bus rider, friends said, leading to fears of killer targeting victims when they stepped off public transit.
And Hoffa’s murder bears other grim parallels to Felton’s. Both were found dead within the less than a half-mile of each other, and within a mile of where Naiboa and Mitchell were killed.
The latest murder "is like salt in the wound,” Casimar Naiboa, Anthony Naiboa’s father told the Tampa Bay Times.
"It brings back dark memories," Naiboa said. "I still dream about my son."
Local officials say they believe the killer is still in the area. Police are asking Seminole Heights locals to cone forward with any details that might shed light on the latest killing, and have asked residents and businesses to turn over surveillance footage from around the time of the killer.
“The search is ongoing and we are going door to door," Durkin said Tuesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, neighbors are putting on a brave face.
“We have two teenage kids who I am trying not to upset, but I do want to be cautious,” said Shelor, whose husband now walks her to her car when she leaves for work before daylight.
"We need folks to think about everything they heard last night and everything the saw this morning," Buckhorn said during the Tuesday press conference. "We need to catch this killer before we have to notify one more family that their loved one is dead."