Tampa leaders hosting community meeting after Seminole Heights murders

A special community meeting is scheduled after three people were murdered in Tampa's Seminole Heights neighborhood over a span of two weeks.

The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Monday at Edison Elementary School, 1607 E. Curtis Street, which will include attendance from Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn and Interim Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan.

Buckhorn and Dugan joined Good Day Tampa Bay on Monday morning to stress that the murders are a primary focus for the city, and hope the meeting will provide information the public needs and control the misinformation.

"We don't know a whole lot," Dugan said during his interview. "What I do know is I have three innocent victims who have been murdered in 10 days. That's what we're dealing with. There are names associated with those numbers. There are families associated in those numbers."

He added that it's unknown whether the community is facing one or more suspects.

"People want to say it's one person. We don't know that," Dugan said. "We don't want people focused on one person. It could be the work of a couple people. We are very careful because we want everyone to stay open-minded. Right now, everybody is a suspect."

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His best advice for Seminole Heights residents is to not "hunker down and stay inside."

"This isn't a hurricane," Dugan said. "We want people to do the opposite. Turn on your porch lights. If you need one, call us. We will get you one. Come outside. Stay in groups. We don't want people to go alone. The commonality is all three victims were alone. We do want people to go outside -- to be the eyes and ears of the neighborhood."

The city is scheduled to do a walkthrough alleys in the Seminole Heights neighborhood on Monday to ensure there are no overhanging brush where people can hide, Buckhorn said. Street lights will also be replaced to ensure neighborhoods are well lit.

"Our job is to catch this person," he said. "Our only focus is to get this person off the street."

He added it's also important to make sure the community receives the right information. Fake suspect sketches have been circulating, which Tampa officials have said they didn't release.

"We can't tell them everything we know," Buckhorn said during the interview, "but we will tell them as much as we can. Don't traffic in rumors. Listen to the police officers and listen to the police chief. We want to make sure you have accurate information. We need you to be our allies in this effort. You live there."

Since October 9, three people have been gunned down around 15th Street. No arrests have been made in the cases. The victims have been identified as Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa and Anthony Naiboa.

Naiboa, who has mild autism, was the third victim identified by police. They believe he had gotten off the wrong bus stop on 15th Street. Mitchell was fatally shot while waiting for a bus a few hundred yards from his 15th Street home near Hillsborough Avenue. Hoffa's body was found in an empty field near New Orleans and Nebraska avenues.

HART announced it will reroute its Route 9 from 15th Street to 22nd between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Hillsborough Avenue from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily until further notice. HART officials said it is an "extra precaution" following the murders, and will be meeting with police to discuss if any further steps will need to be taken.

So far, detectives have not discovered any connections between the three people but investigators are looking at the time frame of their deaths, the proximity of the crimes, the lack of motive and the fact each victim was alone when killed as connections between their deaths.

Police are also still working to identify and speak with a man seen on surveillance video shortly after the killing of Benjamin Mitchell on October 9.

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Seminole Heights residents joined Hoffa and Naiboa families for community walks held over the weekend. Police have increased patrols in the neighborhood and encourage community members to remain vigilant in recent weeks. Anyone with information is urged to contact Tampa police.

Crime Stoppers is offering an $18,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the suspect. Anyone with information can call 1-800-873-TIPS (8477) to be eligible for the cash reward. Anyone can also report anonymously online at www.crimestopperstb.com