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This booking photo provided by the Tampa Police Department, Fla., on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, shows Howell Emanuel Donaldson. Donaldson, the suspect in a string of four slayings that terrorized a Tampa neighborhood was arrested after he brought a loaded gun to his job at a McDonald's and asked a co-worker to hold it, authorities said. (Photo: Tampa Police Department via AP)

A string of deadly shootings on the streets of the central historic district of Tampa was solved when the alleged killer handed his murder weapon to a McDonald's coworker in a food bag, authorities announced early today.

Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, 24, is now charged with four counts of first-degree murder in a spree stretching back to October that terrified the city on Florida’s Gulf Coast, according to authorities

“I am pleased to announce that tonight we will be making an arrest in the Seminole Heights Murders,” said Chief Brian Dugan of the Tampa Police Department.

The capture of the alleged killer began with the tip from the McDonald's employee, at approximately 2:40 p.m. Tuesday, made in person to an officer. Donaldson handed the worker a McDonald's food bag with a gun inside—and said he intended to leave the state, said the witness.

The officer confronted Donaldson, who was a crew leader at the restaurant. The Tampa officer checked the bag, saw the handgun, and called for backup.

Donaldson, a St. John’s University (N.Y.) graduate, agreed to accompany officers down to police headquarters, where he consented to searches of his car and his cellphone, as well as examination of his gun, according to charging documents.

Several hours later, detectives had enough information to file the murder counts against the Florida man.

The four murders occurred over 51 days, as officials reminded reporters several times. However, the first three came in a flurry over 10 days, followed by nearly a month of silence.

Benjamin Mitchell, a 22-year-old, was gunned down by four bullets as he waited at a bus stop on North 15th Street on Oct. 9 around 9 p.m., according to a police affidavit. Video surveillance footage showed the shooter using a mobile phone before the slaying, and then running away from the scene after the attack.

Monica Hoffa, a 32-year-old woman, was killed Oct. 11, and her body was discovered two days later. Gunshots had been reported to 911 around 8:47 p.m. in the area of North 11th Street—but no evidence was recovered until the woman’s body was found in an overgrown lot nearby two days later, according to the charging documents. Hoffa had been shot three times.

Twenty-year-old Anthony Naiboa was slain Oct. 19, by a single gunshot wound to his head as he walked on the sidewalk of North 15th Street just before 8 p.m.

Nearly a month went by before 60-year-old Ronald Felton was gunned down in the early morning hours Nov. 14, according to police. Felton was crossing North Nebraska Avenue when he was gunned down, and surveillance footages from the area showed a single attacker, who fled on foot after firing the shots.

SIG brand Smith and Wesson .40-caliber shell casings were found at all four scenes: two casings at the Mitchell scene, five from the Hoffa murder scene, one from the Naiboa scene and four shells from the Felton killing. All four groups of shells matched the firearms taken from the McDonald's bag, according to an ATF and Florida Department of Law Enforcement analysis cited by the affidavit.

The suspect’s cellphone pinged a cell tower near the three homicide locations within minutes of the first three murders, the records allege.

Donaldson bought the Glock handgun six days before Mitchell’s murder, and picked it up from a Tampa gun store two days before that first murder, according to the affidavit.

Donaldson was presented with the firearms and cellphone forensic evidence—and then refused to give an explanation. Instead, he asked for an attorney, the charging documents recount.

Tampa police received over 5,000 tips in the case since the string of murders started in October, according to Dugan.

Local officials were declaring victory after weeks of fear and anger in the neighborhood.

“Tonight, in the battle between darkness and light, light has won,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, in the Tuesday press conference. “Tonight is the beginning of when justice will be served, and then the process will occur when this individual rots in hell.”

The accused Seminole Heights murderer, who reportedly goes by the name Trai for short, was a walk-on player for St. John’s University’s basketball team as a freshman in 2011, according to reports and a team roster.

R&D Staff Writer Kenny Walter contributed to this report

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