The man suspected of carrying out a chilling homicide in Cleveland that was filmed and shared on Facebook was found dead Tuesday in Erie, Pennsylvania, from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said.
Steve Stephens, 37, was wanted for the aggravated murder of Robert Godwin Sr., 74. Stephens’ death ends a nearly two-day manhunt that had widened into a national search.
Pennsylvania State Police received a tip that Stephens came through a McDonald’s drive-through in Erie just after 11 a.m. Tuesday, officials said in a news conference. He was still in the white Ford Fusion described in alerts sent out after authorities determined he could have left Ohio after the shooting.
He was ultimately stopped near the edge of Rodger Young Park in Erie, just over 100 miles from Cleveland. When police approached the car, Stephens shot himself, Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said Tuesday.
“We preferred this had not ended this way. There are a lot of questions [we] had for Steve as to why this transpired,” Williams said.
Pete Elliott of the U.S. Marshals Service said officials had searched Erie on Sunday after media reports said Stephens’ cell phone had pinged in the area. At the time, they concluded the report was not credible.
“In Erie, Pennsylvania, there are a lot of places to hide: a lot of remote areas, farms and barns,” Elliott said.
Investigators are now trying to piece together Stephens’ past 48 hours, including where he went and whether anyone helped him.
Asked if was disappointed with the outcome of the search, Williams replied that “a loss of life is a loss of life.”
“There may be other people out there who are in similar situations who we can help by finding out why [Stephens] did what he did and what drove him to do this.”
Cleveland police issued a warrant for Stephens’ arrest on Sunday night after a video from around 2 p.m. that day was posted on his Facebook page. The footage appeared to capture Stephens complaining about a woman before approaching Godwin and shooting him at close range.
Godwin, who apparently did not know Stephens, had been walking home from an Easter meal with his family on the city’s northeast side near I-90. Police say Stephens apparently selected Godwin at random.
Authorities searched for Stephens across the city on Sunday, but speculated that he may have left the state in a white Ford Fusion. They alerted residents of Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana and Michigan that he was on the run and considered armed and dangerous.
The FBI as well as other statewide law enforcement joined the Cleveland PD’s efforts on Sunday and offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to Stephens’ arrest.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) praised the state police for their efforts and said he was “thankful no one in PA was hurt.”
Stephens’ life and motivations at this point largely remain a mystery to investigators. Court records provide a limited portrait of Stephens as a low-paid social services worker who struggled with gambling and debt and who previously declared bankruptcy.
Godwin’s family had pleaded for Stephens to turn himself in and said they forgave him for killing their loved one. The family described the 74-year-old victim as a father of nine who had 14 grandchildren and was the type of man to “give you the shirt off his back.”
“We forgive him. We forgive him because it’s the right thing to do. It’s what daddy taught us,” Tonya Godwin-Baines, one of Godwin’s daughters, told Cleveland’s Fox 8 News.
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