CLEVELAND — Steve Stephens, the Cleveland killer who posted video of the slaying on Facebook, killed himself in Pennsylvania after a police chase, officers said Tuesday.
An employee spotted Stephens’ white Ford Fusion in the drive-thru of a McDonald’s near Erie and called authorities.
Stephens fled and Pennsylvania State Police troopers gave chase. One officer performed a “PIT” maneuver, a strategic way of ramming a car to disable it.
“As the vehicle was spinning out of control from the PIT maneuver, Stephens pulled a pistol and shot himself in the head,” police said.
For two days, authorities across the country scrambled to find Stephens, the man wanted for the death of Robert Godwin, a self-taught mechanic and grandfather of 14.
“We’re grateful that this has ended,” Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said. “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.”
Godwin’s daughter, Brenda Haymon, learned of Stephens’ death as she was planning funeral arrangements for her father.
“All I can say is that I wish he had gone down in a hail of 100 bullets,” Haymon said. “I wish it had gone down like that instead of him shooting himself.”
Godwin, 74, was shot Sunday while walking home from an Easter meal with his children in Cleveland. Stephens later posted video of the elderly man’s death on Facebook. A funeral is scheduled for Saturday, Haymon told CNN.
‘I think that’s the guy’
The McDonald’s where Stephens was first spotted is about 5 miles from where he took his life.
Thomas DuCharme Jr., the franchise owner, said Stephens ordered chicken nuggets and fries at the McDonald’s drive-thru window in Harborcreek Township, and employees recognized him and called the police.
The employee said “‘I think that’s the guy. Can you double check I’m right?'” DuCharme said. “When I saw him, I knew it was him. It fits the profile. He didn’t look that different than the picture but his beard was trimmed down.”
Stephens was two cars behind in the drive-thru lane to pick up food, and by this time, the police were on their way, DuCharme said.
Stephens took his nuggets, but employees told him he had to wait for the fries. They were trying to give police time to arrive, DuCharme said. But Stephens didn’t wait and he drove away, the owner said.
DuCharme said Stephens looked suspicious.
“I’ve been doing this for 34 years. [Stephens] didn’t want his money, he wanted the nuggets and to leave,” he said.
The last thing he said ‘was my name’
On Tuesday, two of Godwin’s daughters, Debbie Godwin and Tonya Godwin-Baines, met with Joy Lane, the woman who identified herself as Stephens’ former girlfriend, CNN affiliate WJW reported.
The women, who didn’t know each other, hugged, prayed and cried.
“The hashtags Joy Lane, Joy Lane massacre — I don’t even know who Joy Lane is anymore, or how to pick up all the pieces of my world at this moment,” Lane said, the station reported. “I’ve got a lot of negative comments. Some even said he should have killed me.”
WJW said Lane told Godwin’s daughters: “I feel bad … The last thing that he would have said was my name and didn’t know me or why he was saying it. And that’s been difficult.”
She and Stephens had dated for a while, Lane said. They last talked on Saturday night. Stephens told Lane he had quit his job and was moving out of state, she said.
Lane told WJW she tried to reach Stephens after the video surfaced on Facebook but he didn’t answer his phone.
Earlier in the week, Lane told multiple news agencies she was “overwhelmed” by the tragedy.
“Steve really is a nice guy. … He is generous with everyone he knows. He was kind and loving to me and my children,” she told CBS News.
Cleveland police said earlier this week that they had spoken to Lane, and she was safe and cooperating with the investigation. Lane’s neighbors told CNN that Stephens often stayed at her Twinsburg home with her three young girls. One resident said Stephens was there recently, fixing the home’s garage.
Suspect cited anger with his girlfriend
The police chief said Stephens apparently chose Godwin, who was walking home, at random.
Stephens’ mother, Maggie Green, said her son stopped by her house Saturday and gave her a cryptic message.
“He said this (was) the last time I was going to see him,” Green said.
They spoke briefly again the next day, his mother said. Before Green’s phone died, Stephens told her he was “shooting people” because he was “mad with his girlfriend,” his mother said, referring to Lane.
Later Sunday, Stephens uploaded a video to his Facebook page showing a gun pointed at a man’s head.
Stephens asked the victim to say Lane’s name.
“She’s the reason why this is about to happen to you,” Stephens said.
The gunman then fires the weapon. Godwin recoils and falls to the ground.
Stephens claimed on Facebook that he had killed more people, but police don’t know of any other victims. Stephens had many traffic violations but no criminal record, police said.
Zuckerberg: ‘We have a lot of work’
The video Stephens posted of the slaying stayed online for more than two hours before Facebook removed it, sparking widespread criticism of the company.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked about Godwin’s death at the company’s annual developers’ conference, the F8.
“We have a lot of work, and we will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening,” Zuckerberg said on stage. “Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Robert Godwin Sr.”
The gunman’s ties to Erie
Erie, about 100 miles northeast of Cleveland, may seem like a random place for Stephens to go. But the gunman had been a regular at Erie’s Presque Isle Downs & Casino, Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Wayne Kline said.
Authorities said a cell phone tower east of Erie detected a signal from Stephens’ cell phone at 4:30 p.m. Sunday. But Kline said police did not know exactly where Stephens was until Tuesday.
Police are now investigating whether anyone in the area helped Stephens while he was on the run, Kline said.
At this point, authorities don’t believe Stephens had any accomplices, State Police Maj. William Teper Jr. said.
Authorities were also uncertain how long Stephens was in the area.
“He’s been somewhere over the last couple days. We just don’t know where,” Teper said.
Teper said police were searching Stephens’ car and it’s contents.
Not a ‘representation’ of gun owners
Stephens had a concealed weapons permit, according to Cleveland Police spokeswoman Jennifer Ciaccia.
He often visited an Ohio gun store and shooting range, where he would buy products, chit chat and look at inventory, said Leah Frederick, co-owner of Sherwin Shooting Sports in Eastlake, 19 miles northeast of Cleveland.
“This is absolutely horrific and horrible. This is not a representation of the common person that owns firearms,” she told CNN. This is someone who’s obviously gone to the bad side.”
Frederick said Stephens last came in the store in July.
“We are so saddened for this poor family,” Frederick said, referring to the Godwins. “This poor man. It’s deeply affected us. What a beautiful family they have. To know they are missing their father. It’s a horrible thing.”
Victim’s family offered forgiveness
Through their tears, several of Godwin’s children said they held no animosity toward Stephens.
“Each one of us forgives the killer, the murderer,” Godwin-Baines said Monday.
Godwin taught his children the value of hard work, how to love God and how to forgive, his children said.
“They don’t make men like him anymore,” said his daughter Debbie Godwin. “He was definitely one in a million.”
We are ‘sorry’ for what happened
Stephens’ mother told CNN affiliate WJW that Godwin’s family has been on her mind.
“We have wanted to reach out to the family the last couple of days,” Green said. “I wanted them to know how sorry we are for what happened.”
Green and her family said they wanted to thank Godwin’s family for forgiving her son.
“That means so much,” Green said.
Gunman had worked with children
Stephens was employed at Beech Brook, a behavioral health agency in northeastern Ohio that serves children, teenagers and families, according to a spokeswoman for the facility.
“We are shocked and horrified like everyone else,” said Nancy Kortemeyer. “To think that one of our employees could do this is awful.”
She said Stephens was a vocational specialist who worked with youth and young adults. He had previously worked as a youth mentor, she said.