TAMPA — Delanda Walker, the McDonald’s employee who gave police the tip that led to an arrest in the Seminole Heights slayings, received a standing ovation Wednesday during a ceremony thanking citizens who helped in the investigation.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Police Chief Brian Dugan honored more than two dozen people during the event in the Ragan Park Community Center at 1200 E Lake Ave, just over a mile from where the last victim was murdered.
Walker didn’t speak during the ceremony. Asked afterward about any fallout over coming forward with the tip, she told a reporter, "It’s been tough. It’s been real tough."
Among those recognized were people who helped police by turning over surveillance video, donating to the reward fund and paying for billboards. They received a certificate, a bronze coin and took a photo with Buckhorn and Dugan.
But many said Walker deserved the most credit.
Howell Emanuel Donaldson III was arrested Nov. 30, hours after he handed Walker a paper sack with a gun inside then left the Ybor City McDonald’s where they worked. Walker will receive a $110,000 reward for alerting authorities, Dugan said.
Donaldson killed four people during "51 days of terror," Dugan said. While awful, the slayings brought the community together and made it stronger, Dugan said.
"If there is anything good that can come from this situation, it’s how this community rallied behind a police department," Dugan said. "There is no doubt in my mind I’ve made some life long friends."
Dugan also said that Buckhorn’s leadership, while at times unorthodox, was essential in uniting the community.
"I’m not going to lie, I might have cringed when he said, ‘Bring his head to me," Dugan told the audience, drawing a chuckle. "But I can tell you the officers loved it. More importantly it was a statement of what he was trying to do — to make sure we stuck together."
The victims — Benjamin Mitchell, 22, Monica Hoffa, 32, Ronald Felton, 60, and Anthony Naiboa, 20 — were shot dead on the streets of Southeast Seminole Heights within a mile of one another. Some of their relatives attended the event.
Felton’s mother, Aretha Jones, 77, said she was surprised by how many people aided in the caputre of her son’s killer.
"It was wonderful," Jones said. "I wanted to meet everyone who was involved. I’ve been praying for the other families."
Hoffa’s father, Kenny Hoffa, 52, said he wouldn’t miss an event that thanked those who helped put Donaldson behind bars.
"I think what this community did show that they are the best of humanity," he said. "I feel like I am part of them."
Contact Jonathan Capriel at [email protected] Follow @JonathanCapriel