TAMPA — Stunning new video from the night of Benjamin Mitchell’s murder shows a person in a hooded top running away from the Southeast Seminole Heights area within seconds of the shooting.
The clothing leads Tampa police to believe it’s the pedestrian whose image has already been widely circulated, leading them to label this man or woman a "person of interest" in the investigation of three homicides.
Interim Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan played the video at an afternoon news conference. He asked the public to carefully scrutinize the images, the person’s clothing and mannerisms, and to notify police if they think they know the person’s identity.
"It appears that they are walking toward the area where Benjamin Mitchell was and then they are running from the scene," Dugan said. "If that were me in that video, I have to believe that my neighbors would be able to identify me."
Officers stitched together surveillance video from multiple cameras in the neighborhood, he said. The edited video shows the person walking and flipping a cell phone in his or her right hand. Moments later, a second video shows the same person running in the opposite direction.
One time-stamped video indicates the person walked by a home and then, about seven minutes later, ran by in the opposite direction.
"I’ve come up with four reasons why this person is running," Dugan said. "One, they may be late for dinner. Two, they’re out exercising. Three, they heard gunshots. And number four, they just murdered Benjamin Mitchell."
Mitchell was the first of three people killed in a series of shootings that occurred within 10 days and a few blocks of each other. Police have said they believe the killings are related.
Mitchell, 22, died Oct. 9.
Monica Hoffa, 32, was killed two days later.
Anthony Naiboa died Oct. 19, just 200 yards from the scene of Mitchell’s murder.
Police have been heavily patrolling the neighborhood since the killings began. They were there when Naiboa was shot, and they heard the gunfire, but they arrived too late to find a shooter.
Speculation that the killings are the work of a serial killer has drawn international attention, though police have refrained from using that label.
Dugan said police believe the person has ties to the southeast Seminole Heights neighborhood.
They have been sifting through "hours upon hours" of video, he said. Enhancing the video — zooming in on the pedestrian — lowers the resolution, leaving investigators uncertain about the race or gender of the person.
"We need people to tell us who this is," Dugan said.
He repeatedly said the subject of the video is a "person of interest" but not necessarily a suspect and cautioned against jumping to conclusions.
"But why after this long — and we’ve had this video out there for so long — why have they not come forward?"
The chief warned against crime experts offering general patterns or speculation about who the killer might be.
He implored Seminole Heights residents to look closely at the person’s clothing and mannerisms and consider if they know anyone it could be. Dugan thought the way the person easily flipped their phone might be an identifying habit.
The chief added that a reward for information on the homicides has increased to $35,000.
As of Thursday afternoon, police had received about 350 tips in the case, increasingly about the video, agency spokesman Stephen Hegarty said.
Anyone with information regarding the person’s identity can call Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay at 1 (800) 873-TIPS (8477).
Staff writer Howard Altman contributed to this report.