Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Facebook killer takes own life after Erie chase

- By Mike Householde­r and Mark Gillispie

ERIE, Pa. — The man who randomly gunned down a Cleveland retiree and posted video of the crime on Facebook killed himself Tuesday during a police chase in Pennsylvan­ia that began when a McDonald’s drive-thru attendant recognized him.

It marked a violent end to the nearly 48-hour multistate manhunt for Steve Stephens, whose case brought another round of criticism down on Facebook over how responsibl­y it polices objectiona­ble material posted by users.

Acting on a tip from the McDonald’s, state troopers spotted Stephens leaving the restaurant in Erie and went after him, bumping his car as a police maneuver to try to get it to stop, authoritie­s said. He shot himself in the head after the car spun and came to a stop, police said.

“This started with one tragedy and ended with another person taking their own life,” said Cleveland police Chief Calvin Williams. “We would have liked to have brought Steve in peacefully and really talked to him about why this happened.”

Stephens, a 37-year-old job counselor who worked with young people, was wanted on murder charges in the killing of Robert Godwin Sr., 74, a former foundry worker and father of 10 who was picking up aluminum cans on Sunday when he was shot.

The chilling video was on Facebook for three hours before it was taken down. It was just the latest instance of crime footage being shared on social media.

At a Silicon Valley conference Tuesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg briefly addressed the Cleveland case, saying Facebook has “a lot of work to do” and “we will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this.”

Police would not speculate on what triggered the killing, but in the video and other footage he posted, Stephens talked about having trouble with his girlfriend and losing everything he had to gambling. He said he “just snapped.”

One of Mr. Godwin’s daughters, Debbie Godwin, said she wished Stephens had been captured.

“I’m not happy he’s dead at all, not at all. If you did it, you have to face your crime,” she said.

Another daughter, Tonya Godwin-Baines, told CNN on Monday night: “The thing I would take away most from our father is that he taught us about God; how to fear God, how to love God and how to forgive.”

And so, she said, “each one of us forgives the killer, the murderer. We want to wrap our arms around him.”

Wanted posters showing his face and name were appearing on digital billboards across the country. Several schools in Philadelph­ia were placed on lockdown on Monday after the police received multiple reports that he was spotted at a park. The police said on Twitter that there was no indication he was in the area and on Tuesday, and the Baltimore Police Department on Twitter debunked reports of sightings as “unfounded.”

The break in the case came when police received a tip that Stephens was at the McDonald’s in Erie, in far Western Pennsylvan­ia about 100 miles east of Cleveland, where he ordered a 20-piece Chicken McNuggets and fries.

The drive-thru attendant thought she recognized Stephens and called state police, restaurant owner Thomas DuCharme Jr. told the Erie Times-News. State police Maj. William Teper Jr. would say only that the tip came from a “concerned citizen.”

The McDonald’s employees tried to “buy some time for the cops” by telling Stephens his fries were delayed, but he said he had no time to wait and drove off, according to Mr. DuCharme.

Police picked up the trail in a chase that lasted 2 miles before Stephens took his own life, authoritie­s said.

Police said it wasn’t clear whether Stephens had any help while he was on the run or where he had been and that investigat­ors will try to retrace his steps. Stephens’ cell phone had been tracked Sunday afternoon near Erie, officials said on Monday.

Facebook said it removed the video of the shooting 23 minutes after learning of it. The company has since announced it is launching a review for reporting harmful content.

“This is something that should not have been shared around the world. Period,” Cleveland’s police chief said.

In the video, Stephens told Mr. Godwin the name of his girlfriend and said, “She’s the reason that this is about to happen to you.” Mr. Godwin did not seem to recognize the name.

Investigat­ors said that Mr. Godwin was the only victim so far linked to Stephens, despite his claim on Facebook that he killed over a dozen people.

 ?? Greg Wohlford/Erie Times-News ?? Pennsylvan­ia State Police look over a car as they investigat­e the scene where Steve Stephens, the suspect in the random killing of a Cleveland retiree posted on Facebook, was found shot dead Tuesday in Erie.
Greg Wohlford/Erie Times-News Pennsylvan­ia State Police look over a car as they investigat­e the scene where Steve Stephens, the suspect in the random killing of a Cleveland retiree posted on Facebook, was found shot dead Tuesday in Erie.
 ??  ?? This frame from video posted on Facebook shows Robert Godwin Sr. in Cleveland moments before being fatally shot by Steve Stephens.
This frame from video posted on Facebook shows Robert Godwin Sr. in Cleveland moments before being fatally shot by Steve Stephens.

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