Man accused of slaying shown on Facebook said he ‘just snapped’
CLEVELAND — In a rambling video, Steve Stephens said, “I snapped, I just snapped.” But as the manhunt spread to five states before expanding into a national search Monday for Mr. Stephens, accused of posting Facebook footage of himself killing a retiree, police were unable to explain what set him off.
“Only Steve knows that,” Cleveland police Chief Calvin Williams said as authorities posted a $50,000 reward for Mr. Stephens’ capture in the shooting of Robert Godwin Sr., a 74year-old former foundry worker.
Police reported getting dozens and dozens of tips, and nine schools in Philadelphia were locked down Monday while authorities investigated possible sightings of Mr. Stephens at the Belmont Plateau park area in the western part of the city. But they said there was no sign he was actually there.
“At this point, he could be a lot of places,” said Stephen Anthony, the special agent in
charge of the FBI’s Cleveland division.
A warrant for Mr. Stephens’ arrest on a charge of aggravated murder has been issued, and police asked residents of Indiana, Michigan, New York, northeast Ohio and Pennsylvania to be on alert.
Chief Williams said authorities had searched “every location” where Mr. Stephens has resided as well as places were his family members live. They have recovered items, including weapons, and “other things that are pertinent to the investigation,” he said, without specifying who owned the items.
“I think we can say without a doubt, he’s armed,” Chief Williams said. “Steve, if you’re out there listening, call someone.”
At an earlier news conference, Chief Williams said detectives had talked to Mr. Stephens on the phone, but he did not elaborate. Mr. Stephens, 37, had many motor vehicle violations but no criminal record, he said.
In the rambling video, Mr. Stephens blamed a former girlfriend he had lived with, saying he woke up last week and “couldn’t take it anymore.” But in a statement Monday, the woman shed little light on what might have gone wrong and said Mr. Stephens was good to her and her children.
As for the shooting victim, Mr. Godwin appeared to have been selected at random, gunned down while picking up aluminum cans Sunday afternoon after spending Easter with some of his children.
A manhunt that started in Cleveland’s gritty east side expanded rapidly into a nationwide search for Mr. Stephens, a job counselor who worked with teens and young adults, police said.
Law enforcement officials said his cell phone signal was last detected Sunday afternoon in Erie.
Some of those who know Mr. Stephens described him as pleasant and kind. Some said he had a gambling problem. He filed for bankruptcy two years ago.
In the rambling video posted to Facebook, Mr. Stephens said that he gambled away everything and that he and his girlfriend had planned to marry but didn’t. He didn’t say why.
“He got along with everybody, so it’s just unbelievable what happened,” said Alexis Lee, a friend who saw Mr. Stephens last week.
The police chief said: “We are not going to pinpoint a specific thing and say this is what triggered this, because we don’t know.”
Mr. Godwin’s daughter said he was killed while collecting cans in a plastic shopping bag to recycle.
“Not because he needed the money, it was just something he did,” said 52year-old Debbie Godwin. “That’s all he was doing. He wasn’t harming anyone.”
She said her father, who had 10 children, was a gentle man with nothing mean about him.
In the minutelong shooting video, Mr. Stephens told Mr. Godwin a woman’s name and said, “She’s the reason that this is about to happen to you.” The victim did not seem to recognize the woman’s name. The gunman then pointed a weapon at Mr. Godwin, who shielded his face with the plastic bag.
The woman Mr. Stephens spoke of, Joy Lane, said in a text to CBS that “we had been in a relationship for several years. I am sorry that all of this has happened.” She said Mr. Stephens was “a nice guy” who was generous to everyone.
Mr. Stephens also blamed his actions on his mother.
The video of the killing was on Facebook for about three hours before it was taken down. Justin Osofsky, a vice president of Facebook, said in a public post late Monday that the company knows “we need to do better” to stop videos like that of the shooting from appearing.
Facebook said the video was posted after the killing but wasn’t broadcast on Facebook Live as police initially indicated. The suspect did go live on the social media site at another point Sunday.
Investigators said that Mr. Godwin was the only victim so far linked to Mr. Stephens, despite his claim in a separate video on Facebook that he killed more than a dozen people.
Detectives spoke with Mr. Stephens on Sunday by cell phone and tried to persuade him to surrender, police said.
Mr. Stephens worked at Beech Brook, a social services agency in suburban Cleveland that deals with vulnerable young people.