McDonald’s workers recognized Cleveland murder suspect & called police
Holly Yan and Darran Simon, CNN
(CNN) — Steve Stephens, the Cleveland murder suspect who posted video of the slaying on Facebook, killed himself in Pennsylvania after a police chase, officers said Tuesday.
Someone spotted Stephens’ white Ford Fusion in the parking lot of a McDonald’s near Erie and called authorities, Pennsylvania State Police said.
Stephens fled, and state troopers gave chase. One trooper 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,” Pennsylvania State 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.
Zuckerberg: ‘We have a lot of work’
That gruesome video 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 Tuesday 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.
‘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 a 20-piece chicken nuggets 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 window to pick up food, and by this time, the police were on their way, DuCharme said.
Stephens took his meal, but employees told him he had to wait for 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.
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’s daughter Tonya 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 another daughter, Debbie Godwin. “He was definitely one in a million.”
Suspect cited anger with his girlfriend
The police chief said Stephens apparently chose Godwin 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” of about three years, his mother said.
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 the name of a woman believed to be associated with the suspect.
“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 so far, police don’t know of any other victims. Stephens had many traffic violations but no criminal record, Williams said.
Woman cited by suspect is ‘overwhelmed’
The woman believed to be associated with Stephens told multiple news agencies that 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.
Williams said police have spoken to the woman, and she is safe and cooperating with the investigation. The woman’s neighbors told CNN that Stephens often stayed at her Twinsburg home with her three young girls. One resident said Stephens was there two days ago, fixing the home’s garage.
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.
Victim was celebrating Easter
Robert Godwin was walking home from a holiday meal with his family when he encountered the gunman on a sidewalk.
Haymon, Godwin’s youngest child from his first marriage, said he was the father of 10.
“He lived a good life,” she said. “He’s a man people should model themselves after.”