‘Facebook killer’ shoots himself dead after brief police chase in Pennsylvania

‘Facebook killer’ shoots himself dead after brief police chase in Pennsylvania

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Steve Stephens, left, posted on Facebook a video showing him fatally shooting Robert Godwin Sr., 74, on Easter Sunday, right. Credit: (Facebook/Steve Stephens)

WASHINGTON – Pennsylvania State Police said the man who shot dead a great-grandfather on Easter Sunday in Cleveland then posted a video of the killing on Facebook, fatally shot himself after a brief pursuit in Erie County late Tuesday morning.

Apparently no one else was injured.

Stephens, 37, had been the subject of an intense manhunt for two days involving several agencies including the Cleveland police, the FBI and the U.S. Marshals. The search had expanded from Ohio to the surrounding states, then finally nationwide on Monday.

At a news conference shortly after noon on Tuesday, Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said that after a tip a Pennsylania State Police trooper spotted Stephens’ white Ford Fusion in a McDonald’s parking lot shortly after 11 a.m. near Erie. After a brief chase, the trooper approached the car and Stephens shot himself, Williams said.

Police said on Sunday that Stephens taped the killing of Robert Godwin Sr., 74, after stopping him randomly as he walked on a Cleveland street at about 2 p.m. EDT Sunday, then put the video on Facebook.

Stephens said on Facebook that he had committed an “Easter day slaughter” and boasted that he had killed 14 other people. But the police chief said no other victims have been found.

Stephens was apparently upset about gambling debts and a recent break-up with his girlfriend, Joy Lane. He had recently been evicted and his paychecks were being garnished. He worked as a vocational specialist at a community organization for youths and young adults.

Stephens prompted Godwin to say Lane’s name before shooting him in the head.

Williams said investigators are on their way from Cleveland to Erie County. They will try to retrace Stephens’ steps since the killing, he said.

The police chief said investigators received more than 400 tips during the manhunt.

Williams lamented the problem of videos depicting violence being posted on social media. “This is something that should not have been seen around the world. Period,” he said about Stephens’ video of the killing.

The video was on Facebook for nearly two hours before the company removed it, according to Facebook. By that time, millions of people had viewed the video. Facebook disabled Stephens’ account 23 minutes after being notified about the video, the company said.

“We have a lot of work, and we will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on stage at F8, Facebook’s annual developers conference. The event kicked off about an hour after Stephens’ suicide was announced.

“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Robert Godwin Sr.,” Zuckerberg added.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and the police chief had announced Monday afternoon that a $50,000 reward was being offered by authorities and Crimestoppers for information leading to the arrest of Stephens. It is not clear yet if anyone will collect the reward.

Authorities had appealed to Stephens, to whom they had referred by his first name, to turn himself in or to call a friend or relative.

Several of Godwin’s children also had urged Stephens to surrender and said they had no animosity against him.

“Each one of us forgives the killer, the murderer,” Godwin’s daughter Tonya Godwin Baines said. “We want to wrap our arms around him.”
His children explained that their very religious father would have wanted Stephens to be forgiven.
Godwin was a retired foundry worker and the patriarch of a large extended family. He had 9 children, 14 grandchildren and multiple great-grandchildren. When he was shot, he had just left a family Easter celebration. He was carrying a plastic bag to pick up aluminum cans for recycling – a hobby his children said he engaged in for fun rather than money.

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