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Transcription of Episode Two: The Beginning

Crime

“All of a sudden I heard one shot, two shot, three shot. By the third shot, I heard Ben holler. I walked to the bus stop at 15th and Frierson and I walked down there to Ben.”

That was Clint Foster. People call him “Yaya.” He was one of the first people on the scene when the Seminole Heights serial killer targeted the first victim – Benjamin Mitchell. 

This is where the investigation begins: Day one.

It’s 9 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. Benjamin Mitchell is standing at a bus stop in Seminole Heights. Benjamin is black. He’s about six feet tall and 220 pounds. He has a beard and usually wears glasses.

In the following weeks, the city would add lights in the neighborhood to make it safer as they searched for a serial killer. But at this moment, it was dimmer. Looking at Google Maps street view images, there are no street lights directly above the bus stop at this time. The closest ones aren’t near enough to provide much illumination. So it’s safe to say Benjamin is standing in the dark. 

There are also trees and shrubbery around the area. Coupled with the darkness, it would be easy for someone to linger unnoticed, watching Benjamin and waiting for the perfect time to strike. The killer could be waiting in the shadows right now watching Benjamin as he waits for the bus. Maybe he walks up to him unnoticed until he’s too close for Ben to run away. Benjamin often wears headphones, lost in his own musical world, so maybe he doesn’t notice anything at all until the first bullets hit him. Maybe he never saw the killer coming.

But the killer did come. On a dark street in Seminole Heights at 9 p.m., someone shot Benjamin Mitchell four times. Once in the left side of his chest, twice in his lower abdomen and once in his left arm. 

Riley Holmes is a close friend of Benjamin’s. He’s riding the number nine bus with his girlfriend and 5-year-old daughter around 9 p.m. His little girl is asleep, so he’s holding her in his arms. They’re all standing by the back door, ready to get off and walk home. Riley’s girlfriend lives on 15th Street, so it’s a short trek.

But they’re delayed when the driver, Julia Ames, spots a crowd of people.

This is Julia talking to police: “There was a young lady who was in the background. I think she was on the phone with police. All she said is ‘go, just go.'”

Julia decides to take the advice. She gets ready to pull off, but Riley still wants to get off. He asks for her to open the back door. No movement.

He keeps repeating himself. “Back door, back door, back door.” The driver eventually opens the door. They get off and Riley sees Benjamin on the ground. He recognizes him immediately.

Here’s Riley: “I knew who he was. He’s like one of my best friends. We went to school together. Every day, we walked to and from school every day. Every day he get off work, I see him walking down the street. He stop, we just chit chat. Five, ten minutes.”

Police: “What’s his name?”

Riley: “His name is Benjamin.”

Riley looks at Ben on the ground. By the time they get off the bus, he sees someone helping Ben and there are others around. His daughter is still asleep and he doesn’t want her to see this, so Riley walks his daughter and girlfriend to his girlfriend’s place. He then heads back to see what’s happening.

When Yaya shows up on the scene, he finds Ben on the ground. As Yaya told police, Ben is still alive at this point. Yaya looks over and notices a woman nearby calling the police. She’s keeping her distance from Ben, who’s bleeding on the ground, struggling to stay alive. But Yaya can’t just stand around and wait. He takes off his shirt and uses it to apply pressure to Benjamin’s wounds. 

Around 9 p.m. that night, Brandon Hines is watching television with his family. He hears what sounds like four gunshots go off in front of his home but he brushes it off. He thinks it’s probably just some kids playing with fireworks. But curiosity gets the best of his girlfriend, who goes to look out the window. 

She tells Brandon he’s wrong – someone was shot and they’re lying in the road. Brandon takes a look for himself. She’s right.

He makes sure it’s safe to go outside, presumably scanning the street from his front window, and then grabs some shirts and socks to use as bandages before running out to help. 

When he gets there, Ben is still alive and making what Brandon describes as “gurgling” noises.

More people come. They just stand by and watch, maybe realizing they could be witnessing a man take his last breaths. Some of them, like Yaya, probably know Benjamin.

As they stand by, someone takes out a cell phone and starts recording. It shouldn’t be surprising in today’s social media-obsessed world, but it still is when you think about what’s going on. Benjamin is dying and it’s not pretty. He’s been shot four times, so he’s bleeding. He’s making odd noises. That’s not how his family would want to see him. But when they look on social media later that night, it’s exactly what they see.

More on that later. For now, just picture a crowd unwittingly turning a young man’s death into a spectator sport. 

Police take over when they arrive. According to a report by one of the first officers on the scene, Benjamin’s pulse is already gone by this time. Brandon corroborates this. About the time police get there, he can’t feel a pulse anymore. But they do what they can, performing chest compressions with the eyes of the crowd still on them as they try to save Benjamin Mitchell’s life. Tampa Fire Rescue’s paramedic team shows up and rushes Benjamin to the hospital. 

This is Yaya speaking to police again: “Listen, that hurt me man cause that dude don’t mess with nobody, y’all. 

Officer: “He’s a good kid, not a gangbanger.”

Yaya: “Nothing. He’s second year at HCC. He don’t mess with nobody, man.”

It’s a sentiment echoed in police interviews with other witnesses. Ben is a good kid. He’s going to Hillsborough Community College. He has a job. He never bothers anyone. The unasked question is how could a kid like that end up getting shot?

A few minutes after the ambulance leaves, Benjamin’s uncle, Alton McDaniels, shows up. His wife got a call from someone who’d heard Benjamin was shot. He says Benjamin left home earlier to catch the bus. It’s how he usually gets around. One of the last things Alton tells Ben before he heads out that night is “be careful.”

Thirty-one minutes after being shot, Benjamin Mitchell is pronounced dead. He is only 22 years old.

It’s a little more than a year later now. We’re in the Sulphur Springs neighborhood, just north of the Seminole Heights area. We’re meeting with Angelique Dupree, who quips that she’s somehow become the spokesperson for Benjamin Mitchell’s family. It’s not really a joke. There’s no joy in her new role for the family. 

Angelique: “Everything is not the same. I mean, you try to make it the same but it’s not the same.”

Angelique is Ben’s first cousin. He’s the son of her uncle, but she’s older. So much older that she has kids around his age. So Benjamin referred to her as his aunt. It just seemed more natural than a kid, who’s growing up with her kids, calling her by her first name. 

We’re talking to her outside. It’s a Saturday and her fiancé’s kids are in the house. They’re playing music and video games inside, so it’s quieter out in the front yard. But you may still hear the sound of a car passing by. Or her son’s car pulling into the driveway when he comes to drop something off. Or a very friendly cat who hangs around her house. Full disclosure: Angelique doesn’t like cats, but since her fiancé’s sons fed it a few times, it hangs around the house.

Angelique is probably in her late 40s. She smiles a lot and it’s hard not to smile with her, especially when she’s sharing heartwarming stories about her nephew. She’s wearing her hair in two cornrows going toward the back of her head. She’s dressed casually in a sweatshirt and jeans.

This past year almost seems too real and somehow not real at all. The mourning, well, that’s definitely real. A year before Benjamin was killed, Angelique’s mother died. So the family’s been mourning for two years. The part that doesn’t feel real? The fact that she’ll never see Ben again. 

Angelique: “When I’m at my aunt’s house, I still expect him to come around the corner with his headphones on, smiling.”

Until now, Ben is the victim we’ve probably known the least about. When he was killed, it seemed like a normal shooting investigation. There’s no way to sugar coat it – he may have gotten more attention if we all knew his death was at the hands of a serial killer. It’s something Angelique acknowledges, not with any anger, and surprisingly with some understanding.

Benjamin moved in with his aunt and uncle in Seminole Heights just before 10th grade. Before that, he lived with his father in Nevada. He didn’t have any family around his age there. He spent the summers in Tampa with his cousins, hanging out and joking around. But that camaraderie was something his father thought was missing in Nevada, so he arranged for Ben to finish high school in Tampa.  

It was definitely a change from living out west. While Benjamin lived in Nevada for a time, he spent a lot of his adolescence in California. It’s where he developed his sense of style, something that was contrary to how kids his age dressed in Tampa. Benjamin wore regular-fit shirts and skinny jeans, but guys in Tampa his age favored oversized shirts and baggy pants.  

Angelique lights up when she remembers a conversation her sons had with Ben, trying to teach him where he was going wrong with his fashion choices.

Angelique: “Their style was a little different. It was funny seeing them interact together. They were trying to give him our style and he was trying to give them their style. My boys were like, ‘Those aren’t for us, those are women’s jeans.'”

On top of his sense of style, Benjamin’s idea of privacy was something that set him apart. He was surrounded by family in Tampa. And the sense we get from Angelique is it’s one of those big, loving families where everyone wants to know what everyone’s been up to. They’re often in and out of each there’s home, visiting and popping in.

We see that for ourselves when we ask about Benjamin’s time on the Middleton High School football team. He played during his junior and senior year. Angelique’s having trouble remembering what position when her son pulls up in the driveway. He’s dropping something off. When he gets out of the car, she asks what position Ben played. Her son says he was a linebacker. 

While Benjamin was open about some stuff, there were a few things he liked to keep quiet about, like girls. When you’re in a big family, they always want to know who you’re dating. Maybe they know her parents or grandparents. Maybe they’ve seen her around town at a community event or she works at their favorite grocery store. But Benjamin was fine keeping them in the dark about that part of his life.
Angelique thought it was funny. They even made a game out of it.

Angelique: “When he got a girlfriend, nobody knew. He would just leave and he kept saying he was going to Walgreens. And I would say, ‘What’s around at Walgreens?’ And my aunt, she was like, ‘It’s a girl, Ronnie.’ I was like, ‘I know it is.’ So I started calling him Walgreens after that. So I would say ‘You going to Walgreens, bring me a soda back.’ He’d put his headphones on and laugh and say ‘OK auntie’ and just walk away. That was our little thing together, him and I.”

When it came to family, Benjamin had a particularly close bond with his Angelique’s mother, who liked to spoil him. 

Angelique: “My mom and my aunt, they had went shopping for his senior prom and he wanted that shirt so badly. And my aunt was like, ‘I’m not getting that shirt.’ And so my mom was like, ‘Cmere.’ Him and my son went and got the shirt and my mom got him that shirt. I think that’s when he really fell in love with my mom. She kind of cuddled him more and my aunt was more strict with him. My mom was more like that cuddle and, ‘Come here baby, let me hold you.'”

Her death rocked him, as it did the rest of the family. He got a tattoo of a rose to honor her memory. Rose was her middle name.

Another thing Benjamin kept close to the vest was his music. By the time his family found out he was musical at all, he was good enough to start booking gigs at clubs in Ybor City. 

Angelique: “My cousin on my dad’s side had came to me one day. She was like, ‘why didn’t you come to the show?’ She was like ‘Poppa and Ben had a show together.’ We didn’t even know.”

Poppa is Ken German, a hip-hop artist in Tampa. He had more of the R&B vibe and focused on singing. Meanwhile, Ben was the rapper. They’re actually cousins but they had no idea for years. Angelique says they were best friends through high school but, because Ben didn’t tell her he even knew Ken, neither knew they were related. 

Ben went by the name Eddie Bank$. We listened to his rhymes and they’re good. That includes the work he did with Ken, other local artists and his solo tracks. We’re no record label executives, but their music sounds as good as anything we’ve heard on the radio. Honestly, it’s better than some things we’ve heard on the radio. 

We’ve spent a while talking about Ben and his life. Angelique’s reminisced on the happy young man she knew who loved his family, loved his music and had a bright future ahead.

But now, we have to move onto the hard part – his death. 

Angelique: “Benjamin was used to Florida, he was used to Tampa. But he wasn’t raised here like the other kids. So you know not to be wary of where you are, your surroundings and all that. And even though he had been here that long, he was still very friendly, I guess you could say.”

We’ll probably never know what happened in those moments before Benjamin died. There’s a possibility he never saw the killer coming. Or maybe the killer said something to him or struck up a conversation and Benjamin didn’t know to be distrustful. Either way, the killer had a gun and Benjamin didn’t so it’s doubtful being warier would’ve changed anything. 

But it’s natural to wonder what would’ve happened if just one thing had gone differently. What if he’d asked someone for a ride instead of getting on the bus? What if he’d left the house 15 minutes later? What if he’d run when he saw someone coming toward him? Would Ben still be alive?

Angelique still remembers that night. Like her uncle, she received a call from someone who heard about Ben getting shot.

Angelique: “A friend had called and said something about Benjamin being at the hospital. And she said, ‘what do you mean he’s at the hospital?’ She said ‘yeah, it’s all over his Facebook.’ So I went on his Facebook to see what was going on and people were saying, ‘yeah Benjamin hope you pull through.’ And me and her were both like, what is going on?”

It’s a little alarming how much Angelique was exposed to on social media. Remember at the top of the episode when we mentioned someone took out a phone and captured Benjamin lying in the street bleeding after being shot four times? Angelique saw that video. And so did other members of the family. She said someone actually posted it on Benjamin’s Facebook page. Can you imagine being worried, waiting to hear if the worst has happened to someone you love and coming face-to-face with something so horrific?

Angelique: “That was something that we didn’t want to see. We didn’t want to see how he died, you know, laying there. Cause we could hear in the video the police say, ‘hold on, hold on. Breathe. Hold on.’ And that was like too much for us. We just turned it off at that point.”

The video was eventually taken down. But when Angelique talks about it, you can see her reliving the moment she saw those pieces of it. There are a lot of traumas she’s still recovering from connected to Benjamin’s death and this is definitely one of them. 

After finding out Benjamin was shot, it took a while for Angelique and the rest of the family to figure out how he was doing. Her uncle had gone to the hospital, but he wasn’t Ben’s father so they wouldn’t tell him anything. That meant they had to wait until someone contacted Ben’s dad in Las Vegas, who, after receiving the tragic news himself, had to deliver it to the family.

Ben was dead. 

It seems like there’s a big hole in Benjamin’s family now. No family dinner is really the same anymore. They started feeling that with the death of Angelique’s mother, but this is different. Her mother had children and grandchildren. She lived a long life before dying. Ben never had the chance.

Angelique: “There’s nothing left of him for us. We have his music. We’ll get together and play that. And we have our memories of him. But something that’s tangible that you can touch – like a child or whatever, that we can say this was part of Benjamin – we don’t have that. He was taken from us at a very, very young age.”

When Benjamin died, there was a ripple effect. It reverberated through the family. It’s something we’ve heard from everyone we’ve spoken to. It doesn’t end when the victims are dead and buried. For Angelique, it’s also made her a little more afraid for the children she’s raising now. She can’t lock them in the house, but it’s harder to let them go out on their own. Instead of wondering what the worst-case scenario is, she knows. It’s an unfortunate part of life after Benjamin. It’s now her new normal.

Back to the night of the shooting. Police are canvassing the neighborhood. They want to know if anyone saw anything or if any security cameras picked something up.

They hit the jackpot on both fronts. 

Just before midnight, police make contact with Joi Dupree who lives on Frierson Avenue, the same street where Benjamin was shot. She lives so close to the scene, she hears almost every part of the shooting.

Police: “What exactly did you hear?”
Joi: “I heard gunshots and I heard a guy yelling and then we came out the door.”
Police: “What did you hear the guy yelling?”
Joi: “He just screamed. Like pain, like ‘ah.'”
Police: “He might have been the one that got shot then.”

After hearing this, Joi and her family decide to take a look at what’s going on. Her mother and everyone else goes to the back door, but Joi walks to the front. That’s where she notices something suspicious – a man running down the street in a hoodie.

Joi: “He was already past the house by the time I came outside.”
Police: “Did you come out like you are now on the steps, or did you just peek out the door?” 
Joi: “I just opened the door and I was like peeking out. And once I seen him running, I called my mom because they came out the back. So when I seen him running, I said ‘I see a guy running,’ so they all came out the front.”

A block away, police find surveillance video. It shows a man matching Joi’s description walking toward the murder scene about 10 minutes before Benjamin was shot.

It’s an image police would later share. One that would be aired across the country. Someone playing with what looks like a cell phone, spinning it around in their hand as they walk casually through the neighborhood. The video quality isn’t good enough to see the person’s face, but they’re wearing a hoodie, just like the person Joi spotted in front of her house. 

Something the public never heard is audio from the surveillance camera. About seven or eight minutes after the hooded figure walks out of the frame, you hear gunshots. One shot, a pause, and then three quick rounds. Less than 30 seconds later, the hooded figure is seen moving past the same camera. But this time, he’s running.

It looks like this could the guy they’re looking for. But how will they find him?

51 Days of Terror is hosted by me, Amanda Ciavarri. It’s written and executive produced by Brianti Downing. Kelly Hatton is our associate producer. Editing by Dallas Cotton. Heather Monahan is our digital producer. Tim Price is our digital editor.

Thank you to everyone who talked to us about the investigation, especially the victims. We’re honored to tell their stories.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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