Linked Seminole Heights homicides cause panic
In just over a month, four murders have occurred in the Seminole Heights area and remain unsolved.
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In recent weeks, the shooting deaths of three individuals in southeast Seminole Heights has sparked fears among residents has sparked fears of a serial killer in their neighborhood. Each death occurred within a mile of each other, and has caused concern for local schools and businesses.
The first victim, Benjamin Mitchell, was killed on Oct. 9 followed by the deaths of Monica Caridad Hoffa on Oct. 11 and HHS alumni Anthony Taino Naiboa on Oc. 19. The similar nature of each of these shootings, in both location and time frame, has led law enforcement to believe that they are related.
The Tampa Police Department (TPD) remains unsure of the identity of the shooter, but they have released video footage of a person of interest and asked those who know anything to contact them immediately by calling Tampa Police at 813-231-130.
“We are not saying this person is a suspect,” Tampa Police Interim Chief Brian Dugan said, as reported by ABC Action News. “We believe this person saw or heard something that could be a key to solving these murders.”
According to a recent press release from the TPD, precautions have been taken by local law enforcement to ensure any evidence that may lead to the arrest of a suspect will not be overlooked, Officials are also urging caution and common sense instead of panic and speculation to avoid any further fear amongst the residents of Seminole Heights.
Hitting close to home
The last victim of this shooter hit close to home. Naiboa attended Hillsborough High School for his first two years before transferring to Middleton for the remaining two. Special educator Johanna Wright in room 133 is currently raising money and accepting donations to aid Naiboa’s family with funeral costs.
Despite the proximity to the school, Principal Gary Brady is certain after school events, like the home game against Lennard on Nov. 3, will be handled the same way as usual until further instruction from the TPD’s or the mayor’s office. “If something were to happen again then we’d have to look at events, but the general idea was that we weren’t going to cancel events, we were just going to increase police presence.”
But his real fear isn’t the game itself, it’s the potential danger to those who walk home after the game. “It’s close to here and it’s close to Middleton too, so I spoke with their principal and she talked about how there are a lot of kids walking those neighborhoods all the time,” Brady said. “I know when I leave here sometimes after a game it could be midnight and I drive home and there are just so many people out there still.”
Even with repeated assurances from Brady about the safety of the game and events like it, students are still concerned. “I feel like there’s going to be a lot of police presence more than usual at the game and everyone is going to be on their toes so the slightest sound or something like that will cause us to evacuate,” sophomore Anthony Allen said.
However, if the situation persists Brady and the school resource officers may be forced to reconsider after school activities and events. “My opinion is that if this keeps going on then I think they should say [after school activities] have to stop and move location,” school resource officer Joe Amiel said.
Increased police presence has been placed around schools and bus stops, and officers have been patrolling neighborhoods. While this presence has made the neighborhood more secure, it has also caused fear and panic amongst some residents. “I can’t even take out the trash by myself because my mother is too scared that I’ll be killed. I can’t walk home anymore so I have to wait on my grandparents to come pick me up. I can’t do my afternoon run anymore, and at night I can’t sleep because I hear those helicopters flying all night,” Allen said.
But not everyone seems bothered by it. “My mom makes me shine a flashlight outside when I take out the trash but that’s it,” freshman Rachel Kandl said. “I don’t walk home, and I stay after school with my friends, so it doesn’t bother me all that much.”
Despite concern in the neighborhood, students feel that the school’s response has been appropriate. “I feel like now the school is doing the best they can because all the AP’s and the officers are on high alert,” Allen said. “On Friday I feel like they should make it feel like it’s any other game because if they look nervous then it’s going to make us nervous.”
To ensure student safety, Brady and Amiel’s advice is the same: exercise extreme caution until the shooter is caught. “I want to tell parents that you need to pick your kids up and drop them off. To me, that’s common sense whether anyone is out there or not,” Brady said. “If something were to happen in this neighborhood then we would lock down. For safety purposes you should walk in groups, if you must walk,” Amiel added.