Authorities in Florida hope a new video will help lead to a break in the investigation of a string of three killings that has left a Tampa neighborhood on edge and generated wide attention from around the country.
On Thursday, Tampa police released the video of a person running away from an area close to where the first victim, 22-year-old aspiring musician and community college student Benjamin Edward Mitchell, was shot and killed in early October. Interim police chief Brian Dugan is asking for help to identify the individual, whom he described as a person of interest.
“I’ve come up with four reasons why this person is running,” Dugan told reporters at a news conference Thursday. “One: They may be late for dinner. Two: They’re out exercising. Three: They heard gunshots. And number 4: They just murdered Benjamin Mitchell.”
Mitchell was killed as he waited alone at a Seminole Heights bus stop Oct. 9. Two days later, Monica Hoffa, a 32-year-old waitress, was killed nearby. And last week, police discovered the body of Anthony Naiboa, a 20-year-old with a mild form of autism, in a vacant lot a couple hundred yards away from where Mitchell was killed. Officials said that Naiboa had gotten on the wrong bus and was in Seminole Heights by mistake.
All three had been shot within blocks of each other and near a city bus line. Police have hesitated to call the shootings the work of a serial killer, but news that the crimes were being investigated together has shaken the area around the neighborhood.
On Wednesday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn exhorted police to find the killer in blunt terms.
“Bring his head to me, all right?” Buckhorn told police officers at a roll call in Seminole Heights, in a video posted by NBC. “Let’s go get it done.”
Dugan cautioned against drawing conclusions from the video released Thursday, but said he believed that the person could be identified by someone who knew them, despite the video’s low quality.
“If that were me in that video, I have to believe that my neighbors would be able to identify me,” Dugan said.
Officials have thus far struggled to generate leads in the high-profile case.
Residents have been warned against walking alone. Trick-or-treating will likely be significantly curtailed, though Dugan has offered to walk with families on Halloween night. And teams of officers have canvassed the neighborhood of 1920s Craftsman homes, asking residents for information. City work crews have boarded up abandoned buildings and replaced broken streetlights to make the streets feel safer at night.
The reward offered for tips leading to the suspect’s arrest has grown to $30,000.
“We’re going to hunt this son of a b‑‑‑‑ down until we catch him,” Buckhorn said Wednesday. “This guy is not going to win. He’s not taking over this neighborhood; he’s not taking over these streets. You guys go hunt him down.”
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