TAMPA — Dontae Lampkins' sister dropped him off at a doctor's appointment in downtown Tampa. Police confirmed he purchased a bus ticket around 9:30 a.m. to return to the home he shared with his mother near the Florida State Fairgrounds. At 10:30 a.m., he called his mother to check in, ask what was for dinner and tell her he loved her, like he did every day.
But the 25-year-old never came home Tuesday. On Wednesday, he didn't show up for work. When detectives pulled into Blanchie Williams' driveway Thursday afternoon, she knew her youngest child, the one she called "my sunshine," was gone.
"When he didn't call that night, I knew something terrible had happened," Williams said. "He was always calling me, even when he was at work," but she didn't hear from him again.
Lampkins is now the third openly gay man killed in central Tampa in less than two months. One was stabbed to death, one beaten, and early evidence suggests that Lampkins was shot.
Tampa police don't believe the deaths are related, said spokesman Stephen Hegarty. An arrest has been made in the killing of 53-year-old nurse William Leslie McGoff inside his Wellswood home last month, and police say they are closing in on three suspects in the beating death of 53-year-old social worker William "Bill" Denham last week at the intersection of N 15th and E Elm streets in Seminole Heights.
Lampkins' death, though, remains a mystery.
He was outgoing and popular, but Lampkins' family said they didn't know of any friends, hangouts or businesses that would have drawn him to the Hampton Terrace neighborhood of Seminole Heights. That's where a construction worker spotted his body Thursday morning in a narrow, overgrown alleyway between E Mohawk and Comanche avenues.
It's less than 2 miles from where Denham was found and about the same distance from McGoff's home.
The old Tampa neighborhood where Lampkins was found features renovated historic bungalows but is just steps away from apartments and hotels that are havens for prostitutes and parking lots populated by the homeless, neighbors say.
With N Nebraska Avenue and E Hillsborough avenues bordering the well-kept community, it's not uncommon to hear gunshots or police sirens, said resident Sara Lentz. Tuesday morning, members of a crew working on her pool said they heard seven gunshots and someone running down the alley where Lampkins was found, she said.
"We hear stuff like that all the time, but now it's getting scary," she said. "With the other murders happening so close by it does make you feel on edge."
Whether the gunshots heard Tuesday were connected to Lampkins' death, police haven't said. He died from upper body trauma and detectives believe his death was not a random act.
Lampkins was wearing a dark blue sweat suit, the same outfit he wore Tuesday when his sister, Devada Carlton, took him to the doctor, she said.
"The way he was, I always thought he would go peacefully," Carlton said. "He was so joyous and could put a smile on your face no matter how bad your day was."
The Blake High School graduate had recently decided to study nursing at Hillsborough Community College and was working at the Convergys Corp. call center near Interstate 4. He didn't have a criminal record and never ran with a bad crowd, his family said.
Instead he liked to dance to Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj songs, watch bad made-for-TV movies on Lifetime and spend time with friends and family. He was always open about his sexuality, but never had trouble making friends from all walks of life, Carlton said.
When word of his death spread Thursday night, the road outside his Beechwood Boulevard home was so congested with friends, co-workers and family paying respects to his mother that police had to direct traffic.
"Dontae didn't deserve this at all, he was a person who was loved," Williams said.
Anyone with information about Lampkins' death may call Tampa police at (813) 231-6130.
Contact Anastasia Dawson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.