The parents of the man accused of killing four people in a Tampa, Florida, neighborhood said they are devastated and in disbelief that their son could have done such a thing.
“Everybody is in disbelief,” Rosita Donaldson, the suspect’s mother, told CNN affiliate WFTS on Friday. “Anybody that knows Trai knows that’s not Trai. He doesn’t have the personality of that character.”
Howell “Trai” Donaldson III, 24, was arrested last week and accused of killing four people, seemingly at random, in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa in October and November. Anthony Naiboa, Monica Hoffa, Benjamin Mitchell and Ronald Felton were all shot and killed in separate incidents as they walked alone at night in the neighborhood.
The killings terrified residents and led to fears of a serial killer, and police swarmed the area hoping for any clues to identify and stop the attacks.
Donaldson was taken into custody last week, 51 days after the first murder, when a coworker at McDonald’s tipped off police about his handgun. Police detained Donaldson and determined that his specific firearm was used in all four of the killings, according to the criminal affidavit. Cell phone location data also connected him to areas near the killings when they occurred, the affidavit stated.
He faces four charges of murder and could receive the death penalty if convicted.
Speaking at a news conference alongside attorneys, Donaldson’s parents, Rosita and Howell Jr., said they had not seen their son since his arrest but wanted to offer him their love and support.
“He needs to know that we love him and we support him and we need to see him,” Rosita Donaldson said.
“We believe in him, and we’re here for him,” she added.
Howell Donaldson III graduated from St. John’s University in New York in January 2017 and was a walk-on for the men’s basketball team during the 2011-12 season, according to Brian Browne, executive director of University Relations.
Attorneys for the family declined to comment on whether they had seen the surveillance video of the suspect that police released weeks ago. Instead, the parents spoke emotionally about their family and the families of the victims.
“We just want to say that we do love our son, we support our son, and we pray strength for the family members and we just ask that they do the same for us and pray strength for us because we all are devastated,” Rosita Donaldson said.
She said that they had prayed for the victims’ families, and hoped those families would return the effort.
“(We felt) devastation for the family, and that was when it first started. I prayed for those families when it first started,” Rosita Donaldson said. “And then when they arrested my son, devastation because I love my son, and it was disbelief that this was happening to our family, and we question why? Why?”