Who is Howell Donaldson III? Suspect's background emerges

A motive in the Seminole Heights slayings remains a mystery.

Howell Donaldson III was born in North Carolina, and grew up in Tampa.  To friends and family, the 24-year-old went by Trai.

Donaldson attended Alonso High School in Hillsborough County, spending half his junior year and his entire senior year as a Raven.  He played guard on the varsity basketball team and graduated in 2011. 

Former classmates were shocked to learn Donaldson was arrested and is accused of killing four innocent people. They say the person they know is well liked, very social, great in sports, and humble. 

None of Donaldson’s teachers or basketball coaches would speak on-camera.

After graduation, Donaldson headed to New York City and attended St. John's University.

"He was a walk-on student-athlete for the men’s basketball team during the 2011–2012 season but never played in a game," said St. John’s University Spokesperson, Brian Browne.

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Donaldson enrolled in Fall of 2011 and graduated in January 2017.  While at the university, he maintained a profile page with this description:

"My name is Howell Emanuel Donaldson, lll. My nickname is Trai because I’m 3rd generation, I was born in North Carolina but for the majority of my life raised in Tampa Florida. I love basketball and plan on walking on for St. Johns basketball team." 

According to his Facebook page, Donaldson majored in computer science with a minor in sports management at the private, Catholic university.

On his LinkedIn page, Donaldson writes, "I am a natural born leader, that takes great pride in originality." He goes on to say he is working towards a career in the sports world.

From February to May of this year, Donaldson worked at Ultimate Medical Academy in Tampa as a classroom support specialist.  In a statement, the nonprofit healthcare educational institution says in part, "He was terminated for absenteeism. Per UMA hiring policy, Donaldson passed a background check prior to employment."

Donaldson’s younger brother attends Trinity School for Children in Tampa. Officials tell FOX 13 News, Donaldson was not an employee of the school, but he was giving private athletic coaching to students at outside facilities.

"Student safety is our number one priority here, so we have shared what we know about Mr. Donaldson with our students and parents. In addition, we have counselors ready to help," said Nicole Morgado, Director of Business & Communications at Trinity School for Children.

Most recently, Donaldson was working at the McDonalds in Ybor City as a crew leader. That's where Tampa police arrested him Tuesday.

"Oh my goodness, it's really shocking, I mean it's like crazy knowing that somebody like that would be living basically next to you," said neighbor Awilda Moyet.

People who live near the Millwood Drive home that Donaldson grew up in are also in disbelief.

We're told his parents and two siblings are very nice and friendly, and the family is close-knit. Donaldson's mom and dad own and operate Shear Excellence Hair Academy on Waters Avenue. 

Property records show the Donaldsons also own a home in Sulphur Springs. The property is boarded up and neighbors tell FOX 13 News they have never seen anyone live there.

Family friends are still wrapping their heads around the news of Donaldson’s arrest. Kelly Fabian says she used to walk Donaldson and his sister to elementary school in Town-N-County, and saw him at the family home a few days ago.

"He's been over here lately so I thought maybe he moved back in," said neighbor Kelly Fabian. "He plays basketball, he's very nice, he always waves, very polite, quiet kid."

Loved ones are devastated, and no family members wanted to speak with FOX 13 News Wednesday on-camera.  Through social media, a cousin says Donaldson was his role model growing up, motivating him, talking with him, and pushing him to pursue his career dreams.

He asks people not to judge the family or Donaldson until we know the complete story.

Besides a handful of traffic citations, Donaldson has no criminal record. He’s set to have his first court appearance Thursday morning.