Local and federal law enforcement officers are frantically searching for a suspect who is accused of shooting and killing a 74-year-old man Sunday in Cleveland and then posting a video of the coldblooded slaying on Facebook.
The suspect, identified by police as 37-year-old Steve Stephens, pulled his Ford Fusion to the side of a road in east Cleveland about 2 p.m. Sunday and said in the video: “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 Robert Godwin Sr., who was out looking for aluminum cans on the sidewalk.
“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.”
He asked Godwin how old he was, then raised a gun and pulled the trigger.
The camera spun around; when the picture came back into focus, Godwin’s body was on the ground.
The interaction lasted less than a minute.
Authorities said the two men did not know each other. In the video, Stephens claimed to have killed more than a dozen people, police said, though they have not yet confirmed any other victims.
Authorities have issued an aggravated murder warrant for Stephens. Amid a multistate manhunt, police said Monday that residents in Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana and Michigan should be on “alert,” warning that Stephens may have fled Ohio.
The authorities described Stephens as a 6-foot-1, 244-pound black man, with a bald head and a full beard. He is “armed and dangerous,” police said. “If seen call 9-1-1. Do not approach.”
Police said he was driving a white Ford Fusion with a temporary Ohio plate: E636360.
The video of Sunday’s homicide was not broadcast live, as police had initially stated. It was posted after the fact, Facebook said late Sunday night, and was viewable for about three hours before it was removed and Stephens’ profile was deactivated. Facebook allows any user to live-stream video from their phones, a service started in 2010. As live videos have gained audience and prominence, critics have questioned how the company should best control the feature to avoid potentially horrific scenes.
The video is likely to reignite a debate about the haunting 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 haunting videos. An Ohio woman was accused of broadcasting her friend’s rape on Periscope, Twitter’s live-streaming service.
Police said the Easter Sunday shooting occurred on a residential road in east Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood. In the video, the man identified as Godwin is seen walking alone on a sidewalk, wearing a blue plaid shirt and holding a grocery bag.
“What happened today is senseless,” Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said at a news conference. “I know, Steve, that you have a relationship with some of our clergy in Northeast Ohio. I encourage you to give them a call and then call us and turn yourself in.”
Posts on Stephens’ 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.
The posts also said that Stephens “killed 12 people today” during what he called his “Easter day slaughter” and would not surrender until he could speak to two women, including his mother.
Police said the other homicide claims have not been verified.
“This is a horrific crime and we do not allow this kind of content on Facebook,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “We work hard to keep a safe environment on Facebook, and are in touch with law enforcement in emergencies when there are direct threats to physical safety.”
Stephens is an employee at Beech Brook, a children’s behavioral health center in Ohio, a company spokesperson told ABC News. The suspect recorded video of an employee ID with Stephens’ face and name on it.
Nancy Kortemeyer, a spokeswoman at Beech Brook, said Sunday night: “We were shocked and horrified to learn of this news today. We were notified that it was on Facebook, and we are waiting along with everyone else to hear if he has been arrested. Our hearts go out to the family . . ., and we are hoping that the Cleveland police will be able to apprehend Mr. Stephens as soon as possible and before anyone else is injured. We do not have any additional information at this time.”
Godwin’s family members were in tears when they spoke Sunday with local reporters.
“It feels like my heart is going to stop,” one woman said.
The woman the shooter referred to, a girlfriend of Steve Stephens, is cooperating with investigators in the manhunt, according to Cleveland.com, which cited an unnamed senior law enforcement source.
(The Washington Post)