Saturday, January 20, 2018
Public safety

Tampa authorities set out to save Halloween as fear grips Seminole Heights

TAMPA — While trying to solve three fatal shootings they call random but related, authorities also are working to save Halloween for the neighborhood terrorized by the violence.

Tampa police have been blanketing Southeast Seminole Heights since they linked the first two shootings, which happened Oct. 9 and 11. They were so close to the third shooting Oct. 19 that they heard it and got to the scene in minutes — but too late to find a suspect.

For Halloween night Tuesday, with the Seminole Heights shootings drawing national news coverage, authorities will be out in even greater force.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Interim Chief Brian Dugan will start the evening about 5:30 p.m. with a community roll call at Giddens Park, 5202 N 12th Street. They’ll be joined there by Tampa officers, some on horseback, and by troopers from the Florida Highway Patrol.

Buckhorn and Dugan will greet people, hand out candy, then about 6 p.m., they’ll hit the streets for trick or treating with children. Parents should accompany their children, and residents should turn on their porch lights to welcome trick or treaters, authorities said.

Seminole Heights is a close-knit community that has long embraced Halloween as a way to strengthen ties with neighbors — but one that’s torn about celebrating this year with a real-life monster on the loose.

Dugan has urged residents not to let fear change their plans, but he acknowledges their concerns.

"It breaks my heart," he said last week, "but I understand."

Safety concerns also are keeping at least one restaurant, Papa John’s at 512 E Hillsborough Ave, from delivering to the area where the shootings occurred.

"They told me they were afraid to come into my neighborhood because they aren’t sure what’s going on," said Josh Bush, who lives a few blocks from the shootings. "I can understand why, but it’s frustrating when you have a craving for Papa John’s and they won’t deliver."

Employees at Papa Johns confirmed that deliveries to the area have been suspended.

Bush said other restaurants also have called to tell him their Uber eats drivers won’t deliver to Seminole Heights.

Meantime, tipsters have provided police with possible names for a "person of interest" seen in a blurry, night-time video released Thursday — wearing a hooded top and running away from the area of the first shooting.

The video also shows what appears to be the same individual flipping a cell phone while walking. Police believe it’s also the person whose image they had circulated in an earlier video.

The video has produced about 500 tips, said police spokesman Steve Hegarty.

"Many are very general," Hegarty said. "Some name individuals."

He would not provide any of the names.

Since the first of the three killings, police have received a total of nearly 1,200 tips from across the country and from other countries, Hegarty said.

The three shootings occurred over 11 days and within half a mile of one another.

Benjamin Mitchell, 22, was shot at a bus stop Oct. 9 near the intersection of North 15th Street and Frierson Avenue. Monica Hoffa, 32, was killed Oct. 11, and her body was found in a nearby lot two days later. On Oct. 19, Anthony Naiboa, 20, was found shot to death at North 15th Street and Conover Street.

Naiboa’s father Casimar Naiboa said he believes someone has a video recording of his son, too.

"There must be video of my son walking that might show someone walking behind him," Casimar Naiboa said. "If someone has any video of my son, please come forward," he said.

Police have not told him whether they have video of the victims, he said. Hegarty declined to comment.

Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.

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