Advertisement
  1. News

College basketball teammates say Seminole Heights slaying suspect Trai Donaldson was cocky, not violent

Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, 24, wearing a white jumpsuit, is led by officers into the Orient Road Jail early Wednesday morning. Donaldson was arrested on four counts of first-degree murder in connection with the Seminole Heights slayings, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan announced at a news conference hours earlier. [CHRIS URSO  |  Times]
Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, 24, wearing a white jumpsuit, is led by officers into the Orient Road Jail early Wednesday morning. Donaldson was arrested on four counts of first-degree murder in connection with the Seminole Heights slayings, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan announced at a news conference hours earlier. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Nov. 29, 2017

A couple of college basketball teammates of the man suspected in four Seminole Heights slayings recalled him as cocky but happy and harmless when he was a freshman at St. John's University.

Trai Donaldson walked onto the Division I team for at least a portion of the 2011-12 season, according to the university. He wasn't included in a media guide from that year but his name is on an archived roster on the college team's website.

"He just had a mouth on him really," said Gerard Rivers, a fellow walk-on guard who recalled how Donaldson used to toss around the word "b****" when talking trash to teammates. "(As a walk-on), really your role is to just be humble and help where you can, and that wasn't him."

"He was a tough kid, he played with a chip on his shoulder," said Sam Sealy, a fellow walk-on.

Donaldson briefly joined a St. John's squad coming off its first NCAA Tournament appearance in a decade. The 2010-11 team graduated 10 seniors, leaving several holes on the roster. Just to practice, the team brought in some freshman students who frequented the rec center basketball courts.

Rivers, 24, remembered Donaldson as a good ball-handler with a quick first step but pigeon toes that often tripped him up. Rivers said Donaldson had "attitude problems" with coaches but couldn't remember what was said in any confrontations.Donaldson never turned his cockiness physical and never appeared to be violent, Rivers said. But after basketball season was over, he remembered, a teammate punched Donaldson in the face when he talked more trash at a rec center.

Off the court, Rivers said he lived across the hall from Donaldson in a dorm and never saw him be anything but pleasant and focused. Donaldson often took his computer out to the common lounge to work.

"He was so productive," Rivers said. "I knew he wanted to be there for school. It was a good school."

Sealy, 24, said he "couldn't see any symptoms" that Donaldson might be unstable or violent.

He used to fold his clothes before practice and always kept his outfits neat, Rivers recalled. He thought Donaldson was kind of "a pretty boy."

They used to walk to the gym together early in the morning for practice.

"I really was face to face with a serial killer?" Rivers said of the charges Wednesday. "That's crazy."

MORE ON SEMINOLE HEIGHTS

LIVE BRIEFING: Everything we know about the arrest in the Seminole Heights killings

BACKSTORY: Seminole Heights slayings: Man, 24, faces four counts of murder

RELATED: Phone data could be 'powerful evidence' against Seminole Heights suspect

RELATED: Seven things you need to know about Howell Emanuel Donaldson III

RELATED: What comes next for the man accused in four Seminole Heights murders?

RELATED: Sister of Seminole Heights murder victim now dealing with her husband's death

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every weekday morning.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

RELATED: Now that police have a suspect in Seminole Heights killings, will anyone get the $110,000 reward?

RELATED: Infamous killers of Tampa Bay, a region familiar with horror

Advertisement

This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge