Tuesday morning, Cleveland police announced that Steve Stephens had shot and killed himself following a brief pursuit with authorities in Erie County, Pennsylvania, ending an ordeal that gripped the nation since Easter Sunday, when Stephens posted video of himself killing a 74-year-old man on Facebook.
Upon learning of Stephens’ suicide, Brenda Haymon, the daughter of Stephens’ victim Robert Godwin Sr., told CNN, “All I can say is that I wish he had gone down in a hail of 100 bullets. I wish it had gone down like that instead of him shooting himself.”
The saga began two days earlier when three videos were uploaded onto a Facebook account belonging to “Stevie Steve.” In the first video, posted at 11:09 a.m. central time, the man stated his intention to kill somebody. In the second video, posted hours later, a driver later identified as Stephens is seen pulling up alongside a Cleveland sidewalk where Godwin was walking. After requesting that Godwin repeat the name “Joy Lane,” Stephens pulled out a gun and fired at Godwin, who fell to the sidewalk. Godwin, a self-taught mechanic, was the father of 10 and grandfather to 14 children.
Soon after, Stephens uploaded a third video where he claimed he just went on a shooting spree that resulted in upwards of 15 victims, an “Easter Day slaughter” as he called it; police later announced that Godwin was the only victim. Stephens also attempted to explain his motive for the random killing, saying “I’m at the point where I snapped.”
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Who was Steve Stephens?
In the third video “Stevey Steve” posted on Facebook, he identified himself as “Steve Stephens,” even showing his identification card for Beech Brook, the behavioral health agency where he worked since 2008.
The 37-year-old Stephens blamed the sudden violence on his mother and an ex-girlfriend, later identified as Joy Lane. “We were together for three years. We were supposed to get married, but there was some bullshit that I couldn’t deal with her anymore. She’s the reason why I’m making this video. She is the reason what’s about to happen today. Because she drove me crazy,” Stephens said of Lane in the second video. “I’m out of options. Now I’m on some murder-type shit.”
Lane would later text to CBS News, “We had been in a relationship for several years. 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. This is a very difficult time for me and my family. Please respect our privacy at this time.”
While Stephens was still on the run, Lane alerted Facebook friends that she was safe and in protective custody with police. Even though Stephens asked Godwin to repeat his ex’s name before killing him – “Can you do me a favor? Can you say ‘Joy Lane?'” he told Godwin. “She’s the reason this is about to happen to you.” – the family of the slain man insisted in an interview with local news that Lane not be blamed for Stephens’ actions.
“Beech Brook is another reason I’m going crazy,” Stephens added of his place of employment since 2008. At the health agency, Stephens first worked as a youth mentor until April 2015, when he became a vocational specialist for young adults.
“We were shocked and horrified yesterday to learn about the situation involving the threats by Steve Stephens and the tragic shooting of Mr. Godwin. Our hearts go out to his family during this time of grief,” Beech Brook said in a statement Sunday, adding that their buildings would remain closed while Stephens was still on the run from police.
“Steve really is a nice guy… He is generous with everyone he knows. He was kind and loving to me and my children,” an associate of Stephens told news agencies following the Godwin murder.
However, another neighbor painted a different image of Stephens. “How can I put this?” Tony Henderson told The Daily Beast. “That kid was not normal as we as normal people know it from the beginning. He was in his early teens when the family moved in there, and I was in my late twenties, but I could see something wasn’t right. He was smart, but some days he seemed okay with talking to people on the street, but on other days he was staring off into space with a blank face. He was very up and down.” Henderson also claimed that Stephens tortured his pets.
Despite those allegations, Stephens had no criminal record.
What social media’s role in this?
“Found me somebody I’m going to kill, this guy right here, this old dude,” Stephens said to himself and an imagined audience in his Facebook video, moments before killing Godwin, whom he picked at random.
By Sunday afternoon, thousands had viewed Stephens’ murder of Godwin, with users quickly sharing the video across social media sites. As the gruesome video went viral, Godwin’s grandson Ryan pleaded on Twitter Sunday, “Please please please stop retweeting that video and report anyone who has posted it! That is my grandfather show some respect.”
The Stephens slaying was the latest in a string of murders and suicides that have plagued social media: Two months ago, two journalists in the Dominican Republic were murdered on air during a Facebook Live broadcast. Less than a week ago, a 13-year-old boy in Atlanta accidentally shot and killed himself while messing with a gun on Instagram Live as his friends watched.
It would take two hours before Facebook eventually removed Stephens’ videos and ultimately deactivated his Facebook profile.
While initial reports stated that Stephens had broadcasted the shooting live on Facebook via their Facebook Live feature, by late Sunday, a Facebook representative clarified that the video was not streamed live on the social network; instead it was recorded and then uploaded onto the site.
Still, Facebook’s initial inactivity in the immediate aftermath of the shooting video cast additional criticism on a social media site that has been condemned for its role in the spreading of fake news as well as the lengthy screening process required to remove questionable content.
“We have a lot more to do here. We are reminded of this week by the tragedy in Cleveland,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told developers at a San Jose conference Tuesday. “We will keep doing all of what we can to keep tragedies like this from happening.”
Facebook also said a statement Monday night, “As a result of this terrible series of events, we are reviewing our reporting flows to be sure people can report videos and other material that violates our standards as easily and quickly as possible. In this case, 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.”
How did Stephens die?
As the Godwin murder video went viral, Stephens went on the run. As the manhunt for Stephens’ white Ford Fusion extended from Easter Sunday into Monday, the FBI and ATF offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to his capture.
“I think we can say without a doubt, he’s armed,” Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said Monday. “Steve, if you’re out there listening, call someone.”
The search for Stephens, who faced an aggravated murder charge for Godwin’s death, sparked a manhunt that put law enforcement agencies in five states – Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana and Michigan – on high alert.
Alleged Stephens sightings came from as far as Philadelphia, where multiple callers reported seeing a man matching the killer’s description at the city’s Belmont Plateau area. Police later determined that there was “no indication” that Stephens had reached Philadelphia.
Monday afternoon, several news agencies, including TMZ, reported that Stephens’ cellphone had “pinged” a tower in the Erie, Pennsylvania area, although authorities were quick to deny that report.
However, Stephens’ vehicle was eventually spotted Tuesday morning in a McDonald’s parking lot outside Erie, less than 90 minutes from where the Godwin murder occurred. Employees at the fast food restaurant recognized Stephens as he went purchased food from their drive-thru, and reportedly took extra time delivering Stephens his French fries so police could reach the scene.
As Pennsylvania state police approached Stephens’ vehicle, he fled. Authorities briefly pursued Stephens before he suddenly stopped his vehicle. As officers approached his Fusion, Stephens shot and killed himself.
— Kris Sanchez (@KrisNBC) April 18, 2017
“We’re grateful that this has ended,” Williams said at a Tuesday press conference. “We would prefer that it had not ended this way because there are a lot of questions, I’m sure, that not only the family but the city in general would have had for Steve.”
Steve Stephens killed himself after a brief police chase. Watch the latest press conference here.