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Seminole Heights Killer: Developing A Profile

The Seminole Heights killer claimed a fourth victim Tuesday morning. Ronald Felton was waiting for the food pantry where he volunteers to open when he was shot. The shooter is still unknown, but police are working to identify him – and a motivation - although that may prove difficult.

Credit USF Department of Criminology
Bryanna Fox

Bryanna Fox, an assistant professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, and a former special agent at the F.B.I, says that as far as serial killers go, this is a very unique case.

“We don’t often see serial killers selecting victims completely at random,” said Fox. “(They) often like to pre-select their victims because that’s something they get a lot of enjoyment out of.”

Fox compared serial killers picking their victims to how one would pick and plan out their vacation; the Seminole Heights shooter is operating in a way that is akin to going to the airport and choosing the next flight out.

The victims also vary in terms of race, age, and gender, which are critical demographics law enforcement tend to see are normally steady among serial killers.

“(Serial killers) tend to pick a type and then stay with that type across their victims,” said Fox. “We’re not seeing that in this case.”

Another unusual aspect about the Seminole Heights shooter, she says, is that he doesn’t seem to have much interaction with his victims prior to killing them. Felton was shot in the back.

In Fox’s opinion, the suspect is a male, probably younger in age, between the ages of 20-35, and is likely very familiar with the area, as a lot of other serial killers are more mobile.

Experts say serial killings are defined as three or more murders that all seem to share the same M.O.– modus operandi (method in which the killings occur) with a cooling-off period in between.

By definition, the Seminole Heights situation is a serial killing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s only one perpetrator. Fox, however, sees that as fairly unlikely, citing the consistent pattern of location and modus operandi as significant tellers on it being only one killer.

Fox says that most serial killers are motivated by a sense of powerlessness over their own life.

“They’re trying to regain some power and control in how they feel about themselves and the most extreme way to do that is by taking the life of another,” said Fox.

She also encourages people in and outside of Seminole Heights to exercise caution, because the killer may change his tactics. Already, the killer has seemed to change his usual timing of attack, with the first three killings taking place in the evening and the recent one having occurred in the early morning.

“The modus operandi, while usually pretty consistent, it’s evolving,” says Fox. “They’re learning different things, they change things to adapt to different circumstances, such as having more police in the area.”

Hafsa Quraishi is a WUSF Public Media digital news intern for fall 2017.
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