Steve Stephens, the accused Facebook killer, has committed suicide in Erie, Pennsylvania in the white Ford Fusion police were seeking after he was spotted in a McDonald’s drive-thru ordering chicken McNuggets.
In the end, an “alert citizen” – and employees at the fast-food restaurant where Stephens ordered a 20-piece nugget meal with fries – gave police the tips that led to Stephens less than two miles from state police headquarters, State Police say.
The McDonald’s employees tried to stall on Stephens’ order of fries to give police enough time to arrive.
Stephens shot himself while his car was “spinning out of control” from a law enforcement PIT maneuver on April 18 after a brief chase around 11:10 a.m. in Erie. His car was heading into the City of Erie when he killed himself after State Police stopped it, police said.
Pennsylvania State Police have confirmed the cause of death of the behavioral therapist and former youth mentor known as “Stevie Steve,” who had been pursued for days in a massive manhunt after posting a gruesome Facebook murder video.
“Steve Stephens was spotted this morning by PSP members in Erie County. After a brief pursuit, Stephens shot and killed himself,” the Pennsyvlania State Police tweeted. The death brings to an end the dramatic manhunt for Stephens that had gripped the East Coast, where city after city reported that sightings of the killer were unfounded.
Police and FBI officials in Cleveland vowed it was only a matter of time before they got Stephens, who was accused of murdering a random stranger, 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr., on a Cleveland street, recording the slaying on video, and then posting it on Facebook. Godwin’s family members have spoken out to the news media after Stephens’ death, with Godwin’s emotional daughter saying her heart is broken over her father’s loss.
“This started with one tragedy and ended with another person taking his own life,” said Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams. “Our investigators are on their way. Our federal partners are there already working with PA police.”
In the horrific video, Stephens said he was committing the murder because he was angry at his girlfriend, Joy Lane. You can watch the uncensored video at the end of this article, but be aware it is very graphic and disturbing.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Stephens’ Desire for Fast Food Led to His Undoing & Workers Tried to Make Him Wait by ‘Holding on to His Fries’
Imagine being the McDonald’s drive-thru worker who spotted Steve Stephens at the window ordering food. But that’s what the restaurant manager who helped bring an end to a multi-day and state manhunt says happened.
Henry Sayers, a McDonald’s employee, told Cleveland19 that Stephens “rolled through the drive-thru and ordered a 20 piece Chicken McNuggets and basket of fries. Sayers says he ‘acted normal’ and there would have been no of way of knowing it was him unless he was on television.” Sayers wasn’t the first person to spot Stephens, though.
The Harborcreek restaurant owner Thomas DuCharme Jr. spoke about the moment that a female employee working the drive-thru thought she recognized Stephens.
“My back drive thru person informed me that she thought she recognized…him in the drive thru,” he said. “She called me in the back. She wanted to have me take a look and make sure she wasn’t seeing things. She was already on the phone to call the police,” DuCharme says in the video. They told Stephens it would be a wait for his fries to give police the chance to arrive, but he left.
There was a $50,000 reward being offered in the case.
According to Cleveland19, “the alert McDonald’s drive-thru employee recognized Stephens while taking his order, and immediately dialed 9-1-1. Sayers says they weren’t 100% sure it was him, but called 9-1-1 anyways. The McDonald’s employees knew he might be in the area” because of previous news reports.
The New York Times reports that Sayers is the restaurant’s manager. The newspaper reports that workers at the McDonald’s say they tried to make Stephens wait by “holding onto his fries” as they dialed police. However, he said he “had to go” and left with only the chicken, reported The Times.
Sayers told the Cleveland television station “that Stephens exited the drive-thru and pulled right out onto Buffalo Street, that’s when police lights started flashing and a chase began.”
Stephens was “found dead of self-inflicted gunshot wound in white Ford Fusion on Buffalo Road, Erie police confirmed. State police had been following the car as it was headed west into the city of Erie,” reported GoErie.com.
The Cleveland police chief said Pennsylvania police officers received a tip that the Ford Fusion was in a McDonald’s parking lot near Erie PA. “The officers responded, and the vehicle fled from the area.” As the officers approached the vehicle, Stephens took his own life, said the chief.
Cleveland’s police chief thanked the public for its help in finding Stephens.
The chief said the pursuit was short lived and that police stopped the vehicle. He said “there are a lot of places to hide” in the Erie area because there are remote areas, woods, and farms. Authorities are trying to pin down where Stephens was in the three days since the murder and “what he was doing.”
A massive law enforcement effort was launched to find the Facebook killer that involved local, state and federal authorities. Authorities had said early on that Stephens might have left Ohio. The distance from Cleveland to Erie, Pennsylvania is only 103 miles, so it turns out that Stephens did not go very far.
Police held a press conference announcing Stephens’ death. You can watch it here. “Dozens of officers were involved in this case. We couldn’t have done this without their help and the help of the public,” Chief Williams said.
The chief said he would have preferred to take Stephens alive so that authorities could talk to him to figure out his motivations. Police had advised residents of Pennsylvania (as well as several other states) early on to be alert for Stephens.
The closest analogy to the case that people are drawing on Twitter is to Christopher Dorner, and that didn’t end very well – for Dorner. Dorner was a fired Los Angeles police officer who killed four people in a 2013 California shooting spree and then vanished as police launched a massive manhunt. He was eventually found burned in a cabin during a police standoff and gun battle. He had posted a manifesto to Facebook and mailed it to Anderson Cooper. It took authorities 12 days to find Dorner.
Stephens – accused of the gruesome videotaped murder of an elderly stranger in Ohio – disappeared on April 15 after posting the murder video. Authorities vowed they would get him, and tips flooded in.
Read more about Steve Stephens’ death in Spanish at AhoraMismo.com:
2. Stephens Killed Himself Across the Street From a Former Elementary School & Previously Gambled in Erie
Stephens had been to Erie before, according to his now deleted Facebook page.
“Stephens’ Facebook posts revealed that he had some familiarity with Erie as he wrote about his gambling losses at casinos there and in Cleveland,” reports Cleveland.com.
Pennsylvania State Police described the dramatic conclusion to the manhunt in a Facebook post, saying, “PSP troopers immediately began to canvas the area for Stephens and located him in his vehicle a short time later. Troopers in marked patrol units initiated a pursuit that lasted approximately two miles. The troopers attempted a PIT maneuver to disable Stephens’ vehicle, a white Ford Fusion. As the vehicle was spinning out of control from the PIT maneuver, Stephens pulled a pistol and shot himself in the head.”
A patrol trooper involved with the pursuit “could not stop in time and slid into Stephens’ vehicle causing minor damage. No injuries to law enforcement or members of the public were reported,” state police say.
According to WiseGeek, the PIT Maneuver law enforcement technique “likely originated in Germany, where it was used by German military and law enforcement. Some people believe that it may have been derived from the ‘bump and run’ technique used in professional auto racing. It was first used in the US by the Fairfax, Virginia, police department during the 1970s.” It’s now a “standard technique” in U.S. police chases.
WiseGeek describes the maneuver this way: “During a pit maneuver, the pursuing vehicle pulls up alongside a target vehicle and rides parallel. The pursuing vehicle’s front tires should be roughly lined up with the target’s rear tires. To execute the move, the driver of the pursuing vehicle steers sharply into the side of the target, which causes the target vehicle to skid. The driver of the target vehicle loses control, and his vehicle is likely to either spin out or come to a stop.”
The local newspaper in Erie reported that Stephens died near a former elementary school. There had been concerns throughout the country about schools, with some going into lockdown after various Stephens sightings.
“The car, pointed west, is stopped in the westbound lane of Buffalo Road, across from the former Burton Elementary School, 1660 Buffalo Road. Police are blocking off the entire school grounds. Erie police are also at the scene,” reported GoErie.Com.
Stephens’ mother, Maggie Green, told Fox News “she heard the news of her son’s death on the radio. She said she believed he would commit suicide because he visited her house before the murder to say goodbye.”
She contended he was a “good Christian person” who had a gambling problem and just “snapped,” Fox News reported.
3. There Was an Earlier Report that Stephens’ Cell Phone Had Pinged in Erie
There was an earlier report out of Erie, Pennsylvania that the killer’s cell phone “pinged” there, but local police had said they had no knowledge of that. Now it appears the report may have been accurate all along.
The Cleveland chief said the area had been searched previously after the ping reports, and ground and air assets were being sent to the area for a search on April 18 before he was found.
There had been confusion over the Erie cell phone ping angle when it first broke on CNN. However, GoErie.com previously reported that “the Erie FBI office received a lead on Sunday indicating that Stephens might be in the Erie area, said Brian Fox, the special agent in charge of the Erie FBI office.”
PA State Police “are not able to confirm if Stephens cell phone was pinged in the area or if he is in the area at all,” reported MyErie.com previously. The news site said reports had claimed that Stephens’ cell phone pinged in eastern Erie.
Police in Erie, Pa. also previously told The New York Post they were not investigating the Stephens case. CNN reported, “Though Pennsylvania authorities said early Monday that Stephens’ cellphone had issued a ‘ping,’ or a signal, in Erie, Pennsylvania, the Erie Police Department said Monday afternoon it had no knowledge of a ping emitted from its city. Erie is about 100 miles east of Cleveland.” However, the Cleveland police chief didn’t address the matter in a news conference when asked about it by a reporter on April 17.
It was baffling Twitter users that he’d escaped detection for days.
Some wondered: Couldn’t police just trace Stephens’ car with GPS? Authorities explained that point in an April 18 news conference. “That vehicle is not equipped with any of those systems,” Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said. “Of course, that’s the first thing that we looked at from the dealership aspect, and also from Ford Motor Company itself. The vehicle is not equipped to offer that type of tracking.”
The vehicle police said Stephens might be driving was described as a white 2016 Ford Fusion with temporary tag E363630. The Erie reports say he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in that vehicle.
In the end, human beings at McDonald’s – not technology – cracked the case.
4. Godwin’s Family Members Expressed Extreme Grief & His Daughter Said She Wished Stephens Had Gone Down in a ‘Hail of One Hundred Bullets’
Stephens is dead, but his victim’s family members are left to deal with the loss of their father and grandfather.
“All I can say is that I wish he had gone down in a hail of one hundred bullets,” Godwin’s daughter, Brenda Haymon, told CNN of Stephens. “I wish it had gone down like that instead of him shooting himself.”
The Cleveland police chief asked the media to back off the Godwin family, saying, “We ask that you give the family space. For them this is not over.”
Previously, other family members had expressed forgiveness for the killer. “Each one of us forgives the killer, the murderer,” Godwin’s daughter Tonya Godwin Baines had previously told CNN, which described Godwin as a hard-working self-taught mechanic with a large, loving family.
There had been reported sightings of Stephens from Baltimore to Philadelphia – and authorities received hundreds of tips – but none had panned out until April 18 in Erie. Police were scouring abandoned homes in Cleveland. The attention, so far, had largely focused on the eastern seaboard.
Here’s a list of the top 10 most elusive criminals of all time, from the Alcatraz prisoner escapees to the soldier who shot and killed Abraham Lincoln’s assassin to DB Cooper, the skyjacker who parachuted into the night and was never seen again (although experts are still scientifically examining his left-behind tie for metallic particles; the mystery never ceases to fascinate).
With his three days on the run, Stephens’ escape from police didn’t last very long.
5. Stephens’ Graphic Facebook Video of the Murder Went Viral
The video Stephens posted to Facebook was graphic, horrific, and quickly went viral. It sat on the social media platform for several hours before police were alerted, and it’s since been taken down.
It shows Stephens randomly approach the victim, Godwin, on the street. He asks the man his age, mentioned Stephens’ girlfriend Joy Lane, and then shoots and kills the man for no reason.
Stephens also claimed that he had murdered numerous other people in what he called an Easter Sunday massacre, but police never found any evidence of additional victims.
You can watch the video Stephens filmed below, but be aware it is very graphic and disturbing.