Police suspect there is a serial killer operating in the Seminole Heights district in Tampa, Florida. There have been three murders in the neighborhood over the past two weeks and police believe that all three killings are related. The three victims were all “bus riders and all three were shot at or near bus stops,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan was hesitant to call the suspect a “serial killer” when speaking with the media during a press conference that took place on Friday, October 20.
“We think they are related, through the proximity and the timeframe. They are related. There is no doubt in our mind about that. We are still sifting through evidence. We can call it what we want. If that brings attention to it, that’s fine,” Dugan said.
Anyone with information about these murders or about the suspect should call Tampa Police at 813-231-6130. Crime Stoppers and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have put together a $25,000 reward for any information that leads to an arrest.
Here is what you need to know:
1. Tampa Police Released a Video of the Suspect, But Say They Have ‘No Leads & No Motive’
Tampa Police Department released the video above in hopes of enlisting the public’s help in identifying and apprehending the suspect in these murders. The person in the surveillance video appears to be a male, who is seen walking alone at night. Although the City of Tampa’s website refers to the suspect as a “male,” Chief Dugan warned people not to make any assumptions or jump to conclusions.
“What I need for people to understand is they have to look at the video that we released after Mr. Mitchell’s homicide…I need people to take a look at that, see if they know that person. We don’t if that is him, her, or what. Do not assume that this is a white person. Do not assume that this a black person. And do not assume that this is a male,” Chief Dugan told the media.
He added that this is the only video that police have of the suspect.
Although Chief Dugan believes that all three murders are connected, he would not say whether or not the same weapon was used in each of the killings. He said that the police department has “no leads and no motives” at this time.
The Tampa Police Department is working with the FBI as well as the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and the St. Petersburg Police in the hopes of solving this case as quickly as possible.
2. Benjamin Edward Mitchell Was the First Person Murdered
Mitchell was a 22-year-old African-American man. He was murdered on Monday, October 9, around 9 p.m. Eastern, while waiting for a HARTline bus on North 15th Street at Frierson Avenue.
Police say that the suspect shot Mitchell, who was rushed to an area hospital, where he later died of his injuries. Police believe that he was alone at the time of the murder.
Witnesses told police that they saw a man, perhaps in his early 20s and wearing a dark coat with a hood, fleeing the scene of the shooting on foot.
Mitchell’s aunt, Angie Dupree, told Fox 13 that her nephew was an aspiring musician who moved to Tampa from Las Vegas, Nevada. His mother and father believed that Tampa would be a safe city in which he could grow up, so they sent him to live Dupree and her husband, she told the outlet. Mitchell was studying business management at Hillsborough Community College at the time of his murder.
Mitchell attended Middleton High School, as did the suspect’s third victim, Anthony Naiboa, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
3. Monica Caridad Hoffa Was Murdered 2 Days Later
Two days after Mitchell was killed, Monica Caridad Hoffa was murdered. The 32-year-old white female was shot and killed at the 1000 block of E New Orleans Avenue, about a half mile away from where Mitchell was shot. Police say that the shooting “may have occurred late Wednesday or on Thursday,” but Hoffa’s body wasn’t found until Friday, October 13.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Hoffa’s body was found by a City of Tampa employee. Police noted that the victim had suffered “upper body trauma,” but a cause of death was not immediately known.
At least two Seminole Heights residents told police that they heard several gunshots on Wednesday, October 11, around 9 p.m. local time. Police were called, but there was no evidence of a shooting, a suspect, or a victim.
“I heard about five gunshots: pow, pow, pow, pow. I came outside and I looked, I didn’t see anything, I didn’t hear any cars,” resident Romano Whitley told Fox 13.
“It’s very concerning to me. This neighborhood is on the come up. Stuff like this makes me ask, What the hell is going on?’” Mary Coram told the Tampa Bay Times.
Hoffa’s social media showed she previously worked as a server and was in a romantic relationship, but was not listed as married.
4. The Third Victim Was an Autistic Man Named Anthony Naiboa
On Thursday, October 19, Anthony Taino Naiboa, 20, was found dead on a sidewalk in Seminole Heights. He was killed on N. 15th Street between E Conover Street and E Wilder Avenue, not far from where Mitchell and Hoffa were previously murdered. In fact, his body was found just a few hundred feet from where Mitchell was shot.
Naiboa, the oldest of five siblings, had been diagnosed with autism. He recently graduated from Middleton High School. He was on his way home from work and took the wrong bus, his father, Casimar Naiboa, told ABC Action News.
“He was like, ‘don’t worry, I’ll be home quick.’ I said, ‘ok.’ He said, ‘I promise.’ Didn’t hear from him after that,” his stepmother, Maria Rodriguez, told the outlet.
“This is senseless. Somebody could shoot people just like that. This person needs to be caught,” Naiboa’s father told ABC Action News.
5. Police Are Warning Seminole Heights Residents & Visitors to Stay Vigilant
The map above shows the locations of the three recent Seminole Heights murders.
The district suffered economically toward the end of the 20th century, but has shown recent signs of recovery with an influx of new businesses and dining establishments, in addition to multiple craft breweries, for which Tampa has become known.
“This is not a neighborhood that is not cooperating; they are concerned,” Chief Dugan said during Friday’s press conference.
“We have someone terrorizing the neighborhood… Don’t walk alone. Be aware of your surroundings…If you’re walking alone, you’re either a suspect or a potential victim,” Chief Dugan added.
Police in the area are asking residents to be on guard and have offered the following tips.
- Don’t walk alone at night. If you must be out walking after dark, arrange to have a friend join you.
- Turn on outdoor lights, such as front porch lights. Tampa Police can provide light bulbs if necessary.