NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The man wanted for randomly killing a Cleveland retiree and posting video of the crime on Facebook shot himself to death in his car following a chase in Pennsylvania, police said Tuesday.
A nationwide manhunt had been underway for 37-year-old Steve Stephens, who was wanted on an aggravated murder charge in the shooting death of 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr. on Sunday.
“The search for Steve Stephens has ended,” Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said in a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
The break in the case came when state police in Pennsylvania received a tip that Stephens’ white Ford Fusion was in a McDonald’s parking lot in Erie County, Pennsylvania, authorities said.
“The moment they recognized him and the vehicle, a call was made to our dispatch,” Pennsylvania State Police Maj. William Teper Jr. said Tuesday.
As CBS2’s Tracee Carrasco reported, alert workers stalled Stephens — telling him he would have to wait for his fries — and called police.
“Those officers responded, the vehicle fled from that area, there was a short pursuit in which the vehicle was stopped. As the officers approached that vehicle, Steve Stephens took his own life,” Williams said.
The chase lasted two miles and troopers managed to disable Stephens’ car, state police said. As his car was spinning out of control, “Stephens pulled a pistol and shot himself in the head,” state police said.
A pursuing trooper’s car slid into Stephens’ vehicle, but the officer was not injured.
“We would prefer that it had not ended this way because there are a lot of questions,” Williams said. “This started with one tragedy and ended with another person taking their own life.”
Williams said their investigators are headed to Pennsylvania, where federal authorities are already working with state police. Authorities there have obtained search warrants for Stephens’ car.
Detectives spoke with the suspect on Sunday by cellphone and tried to persuade him to surrender, police said.
Law enforcement officials had said on Monday that Stephens’ cellphone was last tracked Sunday afternoon near Erie, about 100 miles east of Cleveland.
Williams said Tuesday that 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 he steps.
“There is a lot we don’t know,” he said.
Authorities initially issued a warning for Stephens for New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan before expanding it nationwide on Monday.
One of 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.
The mother of two of his children said Stephens’ death does not give her closure.
“It still ain’t making me feel no better, because he took himself out like a coward,” Godwin’s girlfriend, Angela Small, said.
Earlier Tuesday, Williams said authorities had received more than 400 tips in the case from as far away as Texas.
The video of the killing was up for three hours before it was taken down, raising questions about Facebook’s handling of objectionable material posted by its users. Facebook said it removed the video 23 minutes after learning of it.
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 that “we had been in a relationship for several years. I am sorry that all of this has happened.”
Investigators said Stephens had been a mentor to teenagers in Cleveland, but on social media posted about having gambling debts and trouble with his girlfriend, CBS2’s Dana Tyler reported.
Investigators also said that Godwin was the only victim so far linked to Stephens, despite his claim on Facebook that he killed over a dozen people.
“The goal from 2-o-clock Easter Day was to make sure that no one else was a victim,” Steve Anthony, with the FBI, said.
On Monday evening, Facebook announced that it was launching a review for reporting harmful content following the killing.
“I think people on social media kind of know the power and I think they know the harm it can do,” Williams said.
Then Tuesday, CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg offered his condolences.
“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Robert Godwin Sr.,” he said. “We will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening.”
The company said that Stephens posted a video of himself announcing his intent to commit murder, then two minutes later posted another video of himself shooting and killing Godwin. A few minutes after that, he went live and confessed.
The company said it 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.
“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,” said Justin Osofsky, Facebook’s vice president of global operations. “We received reports about the third video, containing the man’s live confession, only after it had ended.”
Meanwhile, dozens of family, friends and community members gathered Monday evening to remember Godwin. They carried flowers and balloons and hugged and comforted each other.
Williams again offered condolences to the Godwin family, but asked the media to give them space.
“For them, this is not over,” he said.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)