Steve Stephens was sought by police in the shooting of a Cleveland man broadcast on social media Sunday, and shot himself after a brief pursuit
The man being sought by authorities in several states after the killing of a man in Cleveland was posted on Facebook has fatally shot himself after a brief pursuit, Pennsylvania state police have said.
Pennsylvania state police said Steve Stephens was spotted on Tuesday morning in Erie County, in the state’s north-west corner. Authorities say police tried to pull Stephens over and, after a brief pursuit, he shot and killed himself as his car spun out of control.
Police said Stephens, a 37-year-old job counselor for teens and young adults, shot a Cleveland retiree collecting aluminum cans on Sunday and then posted video of the apparently random killing to the social networking site. In it, he said: “I snapped, I just snapped.”
Investigators said the can collector, Robert Godwin, 74, was the only victim so far linked to Stephens, despite the suspect’s claim in a separate video on Facebook that he had killed more than a dozen people.
Godwin apparently was shot while out picking up cans in a plastic shopping bag, his daughter said.
“Not because he needed the money, it was just something he did,” said 52-year-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.
“We called him the junk man,” she said. “He’d pick up things off the street and fix them. He picked up bikes and he fixed them.”
On Tuesday, Godwin said she was sad Stephens had killed himself rather than facing justice, saying: “If you did it, you have to face your crime.”
Police would not speculate on what prompted the killing, but videos Stephens posted showed him talking about losing everything he had to gambling and trouble with his girlfriend.
He filed for bankruptcy two years ago despite holding down a job as a counselor helping young people develop job skills and find employment. The behavioral health agency where he worked said an extensive background check before he was hired turned up nothing worrisome.
In one video posted on Facebook, Stephens said that he gambled away everything and that he and his girlfriend had planned to marry but did not, without saying why.
In the video of the shooting, Stephens told Godwin the name of his girlfriend and said: “She’s the reason that this is about to happen to you.” Godwin did not seem to recognize the name.
The woman Stephens spoke of, Joy Lane, said in a text message to CBS: “We had been in a relationship for several years. I am sorry that all of this has happened.”
The shooting marked the latest video clip of a violent crime to turn up on Facebook, raising questions about how the world’s biggest social media network moderates content.
Facebook said the video was posted after the killing, but was not broadcast on Facebook Live as police initially indicated. The suspect did go live on the social media site at another point on Sunday.
The company said it had disabled Stephen’s account within 23 minutes of receiving the first report about the video of the fatal shooting and two hours after receiving any report.
Facebook has since announced it is launching a review for reporting harmful content.
The social network’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, pledged on Tuesday that his company would do all it could to prevent postings of incidents like Sunday’s fatal shooting. Speaking at Facebook’s annual conference for software developers, Zuckerberg expressed the sympathy of company employees to Godwin’s friends and family.
Officers searched dozens of places around Cleveland without finding Stephens or any other victims before expanding the manhunt. Detectives spoke with the suspect on Sunday by cellphone and tried to persuade him to surrender, police said.
Within a day, authorities expanded the search nationwide and offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to his capture and prosecution.
Law enforcement officials said on Monday that his cellphone was last tracked Sunday afternoon in Erie, Pennsylvania, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Cleveland.
In interviews before Stephens’ death, Godwin’s relatives said they forgave the killer.
“I forgive him because we are all sinners,” Robby Miller, Godwin’s son, said in an interview with CNN.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report
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