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‘Just Why? Why?’ Parents of Suspected Serial Killer Say They Are ‘Devastated’

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The parents of a Florida man accused of killing four people over the course of 36 days said in their first public interview Friday that they are “devastated” both for their son and for the families of his alleged victims.

Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, 24, was arrested on Nov. 29 for a string of killings in Tampa’s residential Seminole Heights neighborhood, after he asked a coworker at the McDonald’s where he was employed to hold on to a bag that contained the gun allegedly used in the killings. The coworker alerted a police officer who happened to be in the restaurant at the time, eventually leading to Donaldson’s arrest.

Days after his arrest, the suspect’s parents, Howell and Rosita Donaldson, spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about their son, whom they called Trai. During the interview, his parents both offered condolences to the victims’ families, and expressed support for their son.

“We’re here to support our son through this,” Howell Donaldson told the Times. “And we just want to let the families know that we love them. Our hearts are heavy for their loss.”

“I felt devastation for the families when it first started, and I prayed for those families when it first started and then, when they arrested my son I felt devastation because I love my son,” Rosita Donaldson added. “And then there was disbelief that this was happening to our family and we questioned why. Just why? Why?”

The Seminole Heights killings began on Oct. 9, with the murder of a 22-year-old man. A 32-year-old woman was found dead in a vacant lot two days later, then a 20-year-old man was fatally shot on Oct. 19. The fourth and final killing, of a 60-year-old man, occurred on Nov. 14. All of the murders took place at or near bus stops.

If convicted, Trai Donaldson could face the death penalty.

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Write to Jamie Ducharme at jamie.ducharme@time.com