Accused killer's former friends, teammates stunned by charges

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Those who know Howell Donaldson are stunned he is the one police are accusing of killing four people.

Not the surveillance video, not the description, and certainly not the accusations made one Tampa man think of his childhood friend.

"I would never put that and Trai Donaldson together," said Donaldson's friend, who did not want to be identified. "Absolutely not."

He was friends with Donaldson throughout their time at Baycrest Elementary, Farnell Middle, and Alonso High,

He says he never saw him lash out violently.

"We spent crazy amounts of time with Trai throughout MS and the first parts of high school," he said.

He says mutual friends who spoke with Donaldson just days before the first shooting describe nothing that suggested an outburst was coming.

If Donaldson is the killer, Donaldson's friend says he has only one theory of what made him snap.

"[It has to be a] girl," he said. "Somebody that comes from that kind of neighborhood, who has that type of demeanor."

When Donaldson walked onto St. John's basketball in 2011, his former teammate Gerard Rivers says he was a cocky trash-talker on the court, but who never lashed out violently even when others got mad at his attitude.

"After that, I would see him in the lounge doing his homework, he was really like a focused guy, he was quiet, he would laugh, but he was not the life of the party type person," said Rivers. "Gosh, I don't know what possessed him over the years to take a life."

They all have to come up with a new way to view Donaldson, who at one time, seemed like any other guy.

"I don't want to believe it is true, I really don't," said Donaldson's friend. "But at the same time, I am going to be rational about it. And if it is, it is, you know?"

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