TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – When Angelique Dupree saw the mug shot on the news, it took her breath away.
Then, it made her sick to her stomach. The young man she saw on television was a familiar face – someone she knew well.
Turns out, Howell Donaldson III and his parents were friends of the family.
It was shocking for Dupree.
The young man she knew as he was growing up is now accused of being a serial killer.
Tampa detectives maintain that his first victim on Oct. 9 was her nephew, Benjamin Mitchell.
Through tears, she shared with News Channel 8 how her heart aches to ask one question.
“Honestly, as a mother, I just want to sit down and hug him and ask him, ‘what were you thinking?’ That’s what I feel like saying to him. ‘What were you thinking,'” Dupree explained, with tears in her eyes.
“I can only have love and compassion for his family. I can’t have hate towards them. I can’t hate this kid.”
The Seminole Heights suspect was just a kid when she knew him nearly a decade ago. Dupree became friends with his mom and dad, helping them start a new business – their first beauty school in Tampa. She spent months and months with them and their children, including their son.
A friendship was forged.
As time went on, the school would become successful and Dupree would go on to graduate. She has fond memories of spending time with the Donaldson’s back then.
She admits she lost touch with them over the years, seeing the parents briefly in 2014. But, she says she never saw the 15-year-old she once knew.
She describes him as a healthy, happy young man.
“He was a normal kid, quiet. Nothing wrong with him. I never would have guessed. It never would’ve crossed my mind that this was the person,” she said.
The person she is referring to is now at the heart of this 51-day long serial killer case, one that begin with her nephew’s savage murder.
Benjamin was a young man in college with an interest in music, business and a bright future ahead of him.
When Dupree realized who the suspect was as the arrest was announced, she had one reaction.
“My stomach turned. It turned, and I felt like a person being violated all over again,” she told us.
Benjamin’s aunt says she is still processing this latest development in the case and tells us she does not know what to do with her feelings, describing her heart as having “mixed emotions.”
She does believe that the 15-year-old she once knew did not know that Benjamin was her nephew. As for reaching out to his parents, she says she’s not ready. She’s not sure she will ever be.
“I wouldn’t know what to say. I’m not sure that my heart can do that right now. Maybe someday. I am giving this to God and I am making peace with this. I am glad they made an arrest and that Seminole Heights will be given peace with this.”
She added, “I feel bad for his family, his parents. It wasn’t just four murders. They are losing him as well, so it seems like a fifth.”