Three homicides have prompted fears of a serial killer and concerns about trick-or-treating
Mayor and police hold event on Halloween to allay worries in neighborhood
The mayor of Tampa and its interim police chief said they will hand out candy and join kids for trick-or-treating in a neighborhood that is on edge after a series of unsolved killings.
Three people have been killed in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in 11 days, leaving the Florida community terrified that a serial killer is on the loose.
In response, Mayor Bob Buckhorn and interim Police Chief Brian Dugan announced plans to celebrate Halloween at a neighborhood park and to boost police presence in the southeast Seminole Heights area. They will be joined by mounted officers on horseback as well as Florida Highway Patrol troopers, according to a release from the city.
“We want those families in southeast Seminole Heights and those kids in particular to be able to go out and have a normal, safe Halloween,” Buckhorn told CNN’s sister network HLN on Monday. “We’ll do everything we can to bring a sense of normalcy to a neighborhood that’s been ripped apart.”
Police have warned residents not to walk alone especially after sunset. Officials are encouraging people to travel in groups and to be aware of their surroundings.
Benjamin Mitchell, 22, was shot and killed in front of his home on October 9.
The second victim, Monica Hoffa, 32, was killed two days later. Her body was found by a city employee in a vacant parking lot half a mile from where Mitchell died.
Then a week ago, Anthony Naiboa, 20, who had just graduated from high school, became the third victim when he accidentally got on the wrong bus after leaving work and ended up in the southeast Tampa neighborhood, police said.
Authorities believe Naiboa was making his way to another bus stop. He did not get more than 200 yards before he was shot and killed October 19.
The three victims were alone and found within about a half-mile of each other, Dugan said.
Officials said police have so far avoided calling the suspect a serial killer due to a lack of evidence.
Last week, authorities released new grainy surveillance video showing what they described as a person of interest running away from the first of the three homicides. The video, taken at different angles, shows the same person seen in the historic Seminole Heights neighborhood in an earlier video released by police.
Dugan said the person in the video is not considered a suspect in the string of shootings, but he may have answers.
“He may have seen something or heard something,” the chief said of the person seen flipping what appears to be a cellphone in their right hand while walking.
Police had posted a link to the video on Twitter.
Since that video was released Thursday, police have received hundreds of tips. The vast majority are related to the video, said Stephen Hegarty, spokesman for the Tampa Police Department.
Any clue, any little detail such as the phone flip, may lead to a break in the case, authorities said.
“There are some distinctive things about that person that we’re hoping people will watch and will jog memories,” Buckhorn told HLN’s Erica Hill.
Earlier in the month, police had released another surveillance video of the same person walking in the area.
Effect on neighborhood
The killings have alarmed residents in Seminole Heights.
“It could’ve been any of us walking down the street with our dog or walking around to the corner store,” said Tammy Brooks, a resident told CNN affiliate WFLA.
Feeling uneasy about walking in the dark, Brooks considered taking her daughter to another neighborhood for trick-or-treating.
“It was heartbreaking, yes, to feel like you can’t come out or do what we used to do,” she said.
After hearing that the police would boost its presence in the neighborhood, Brooks said she felt more comfortable about staying close to home.
The mayor acknowledged that many people are fearful.
“They’re under siege as a result of the senseless killings of these three innocent people,” Buckhorn said. “We want to compliment that neighborhood for standing up and not being willing to surrender, not being cowed, not staying in their houses. They’re out there with us. They recognize that they have to use precaution… but they’re not giving up.”
CNN’s Chuck Johnston and Faith Karimi contributed to this report.