The suspect accused of killing a 74-year-old man in Cleveland and then posting a video of the coldblooded slaying on Facebook shot and killed himself Tuesday in Pennsylvania as police were closing in, authorities said.
Steve W. Stephens, the subject of a rapidly expanding nationwide manhunt following the horrific slaying Sunday in Ohio, was spotted by Pennsylvania State Police troopers in Erie County on Tuesday morning, the agency announced.
“A traffic stop was attempted, there was a brief pursuit, at which time Stephens shot and killed himself,” Pennsylvania State Police communications director Ryan Tarkowski said.
Tarkowski said a coroner was en route to the scene in Erie County, about 100 miles from the street in Cleveland where Stephens is alleged to have killed Robert Godwin Sr. on Sunday.
“We have our closure,” Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson said at a news conference in Ohio.
Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said police received a tip around 11 a.m. that Stephens’ Ford Fusion was in a McDonald’s parking lot in Erie County.
When officers confronted Stephens, he fled in his vehicle before later being stopped, the chief said, adding: “As the officers approached that vehicle, Steve Stephens took his own life.”
Williams expressed regret that the three-day pursuit of Stephens “ended with suspect suicide,” noting: “We have so many questions.”
Investigators don’t know yet whether Stephens was being harbored by someone while he was missing; Williams noted that the area where Stephens was found is “remote” with “lots of places to hide.”
“We would like to have brought in Steven peacefully and really talk to him and find out why this happened,” Williams said.
The chief said the case started with one tragedy and ended with another. “A loss of life is a loss of life,” he said.
Authorities had issued a warrant for Stephens on a charge of aggravated murder and were offering up to $50,000 for information leading to his arrest.
But the 37-year-old suspect, who was one of the FBI’s Most Wanted, spent parts of three days eluding local, state and federal law enforcement officers amid an intensifying manhunt.
FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson said Tuesday, hours before Stephens killed himself, that he could be anywhere.
“We’ve received numerous tips from all over, and we’re very appreciative, but none of them have turned out to be him,” Anderson told The Washington Post. “So you’re going to see law enforcement activity who knows where.”
At a Tuesday morning news conference in Cleveland, not long before the encounter in Pennsylvania, Williams said authorities had received nearly 400 tips from as far away as Texas. There had been rumored and reported sightings in Philadelphia, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere; but none of those reports were publicly confirmed by the authorities.
Williams urged people who believed they had seen Stephens to call 911, but said those with information that may lead to an arrest should call the FBI tip line.
“I don’t think the investigation is stalled,” Williams said, adding: “These things can take two days, they can take two weeks, they can take two years. It depends on the individual that’s out there, it depends on their mind-set and what they’re planning on doing, and, like I stated yesterday, it depends on if they’re getting assistance or not. When people go on the run like this, at some point in time, they need help.”
The police chief had told reporters Monday: “We’re still asking Steve to turn himself in, but if he doesn’t, we’ll find him. We’re not going to stop until he’s in custody.”
“If there’s somebody that’s helping Steve, or if you think you’re helping Steve, you’re really not,” he added. “You’re going to get yourself in trouble, along with him. The only way for you to help him is to give us the information to bring him in safely, peacefully.”
Then the police chief had addressed Stephens directly: “Steve, if you’re out there listening, call someone — whether it’s a friend or family member or pastor — give them a call; they’re waiting for you to call them.”
Authorities said Stephens pulled up in his Ford Fusion on a road in East Cleveland about 2 p.m. Sunday and then said in the Facebook-bound recording: “I found somebody I’m about to kill.”
“I’m about to kill this guy right here. He’s an old dude,” Stephens said as he approached Godwin.
“Can you do me a favor?” Stephens said to Godwin before asking him to say the name “Joy Lane.”
“Joy Lane?” Godwin responded.
“Yeah,” Stephens replied. “She’s the reason why this is about to happen to you.”
The chilling video showed Stephens ask Godwin how old he was, raise a gun and pull the trigger. The camera spun around; when the picture came into focus, Godwin was on the ground.
Authorities said the men did not know each other.
In the video, Stephens claimed to have killed more than a dozen people, police said, although they have not confirmed other victims.
In a second video, Stephens was seen on his cellphone, telling someone to go online to watch the footage.
“I can’t talk to you right now. I f‑‑‑‑‑ up, man,” he said.
“I shamed myself,” he added in a video posted by Cleveland.com. “I snapped. Dog, I just snapped, dog. I just snapped. I just killed 13 motherf‑‑‑‑‑‑, man. That’s what I did — I killed 13 people. And I’m about to keep killing until they catch me, f‑‑‑ it. … I’m working on 14 as we speak.”
Stephens said he was killing people because of Lane.
“She put me at my pushing point, man,” Stephens said in the video, laughing and calling it the “Easter Sunday Joy Lane massacre.”
CBS News reported that it communicated with Lane via text message.
“We had been in a relationship for several years,” she wrote, according to the network. “I am sorry that all of this has happened. My heart & prayers goes out to the family members of the victim(s). Steve really is a nice guy … he is generous with everyone he knows. He was kind and loving to me and my children.”
Williams, the police chief, said Lane is safe and has been cooperating with investigators.
“We’ve interviewed several people involved in this, and I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason for what happened,” Williams told reporters Monday. “I don’t think there’s anything we can point to specifically to say that this is what sparked this. Only Steve knows that.”
Authorities described Stephens as a 6-foot-1, 244-pound black man, with a bald head and a full beard. He was “armed and dangerous,” police said. “If seen call 9-1-1. Do not approach.”
Police said he was driving a white Ford Fusion with temporary Ohio tag number E363630.
Following the report in Philadelphia, local authorities said there was no indication that Stephens was anywhere in the city.
Early Tuesday, someone called police to report that Stephens was seen about 1 a.m. at a hotel in Washington, D.C., but D.C. police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said authorities quickly determined that the person was not the man being sought.
Sternbeck said police received two tips Monday about possible sightings of the suspect, including the one at the hotel, and that neither was accurate. He would not say where the other alleged sighting occurred. He added that police are encouraging people to be vigilant, “and if they’ve believe they’ve spotted this individual, to provide this information to police and we will investigate.” He said authorities have no reason to think that Stephens is in the District.
Facebook called the shooting a “horrific crime” that goes against “everything” the company stands for.
In a statement, Facebook said the incident prompted a review of how quickly and easily Facebook users can report material that violates standards.
“In this case,” the statement said, “we did not receive a report about the first video, and we only received a report about the second video — containing the shooting — more than an hour and 45 minutes after it was posted. We received reports about the third video, containing the man’s live confession, only after it had ended.”
“We disabled the suspect’s account within 23 minutes of receiving the first report about the murder video, and two hours after receiving a report of any kind,” the statement added. “But we know we need to do better.”
Facebook Live, launched in 2015, allows users to stream video to their Facebook pages, where others can watch in real time or later. The service is used in a variety of capacities, from broadcasting breaking news, protests and events to giving lectures or communicating with friends. As live videos have gained audience and prominence, critics have questioned how the company should best control the feature to avoid heinous scenes.
The video is likely to reignite a debate about the reach of grisly violence in the Internet age and follows shocking beatings and killings shared in real time, or soon after, on a global stage.
Three men were shot last year in Norfolk while one was broadcasting live on Facebook from inside a car. And in 2015, a shooter killed a TV journalist and her cameraman during a live television broadcast before posting his own video of the killing on Facebook.
In January, four people in Chicago were accused of attacking an 18-year-old disabled man while broadcasting the assault on Facebook Live. They have since pleaded not guilty.
Other live platforms have been used to broadcast similar videos. An Ohio woman was accused of broadcasting her friend’s rape on Periscope, Twitter’s live-streaming service.
Police said the Easter shooting occurred on a residential road in East Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood. In the video, Godwin is seen walking alone on a sidewalk, wearing a blue plaid shirt and holding a grocery bag.
Posts on Stephens’s Facebook page said he had “lost everything” to gambling and wanted to speak to several people he named, according to NBC News, which saved the Facebook posts before they were removed.
Stephens has worked at Beech Brook, a children’s behavioral health center in Ohio, since 2008, the company said in a statement. Most recently, the company said, he has been working as a vocational specialist for the Assertive Community Treatment team for youths and young adults.
Authorities said Stephens has had some traffic violations but no criminal history.
Godwin’s family members were in tears when they spoke Sunday with reporters.
On Monday, in an emotional interview on CNN, Godwin’s relatives said they forgave Stephens.
“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,” Tonya Godwin-Baines said on CNN.
And so, she said, “each one of us forgives the killer, the murderer. We want to wrap our arms around him.”
Williams, the chief, said that he knows the family’s “hearts are heavy.”
“We want to concentrate on finding Steve and bringing closure to this family,” he said.
Drew Harwell, Travis M. Andrews and Fred Barbash contributed to this report, which has been updated numerous times. An earlier version incorrectly identified the suspect’s license plate as well as the year Facebook launched its live-streaming feature.