One of the most horrific and heinous murders in the history of Cleveland, an Easter Day tragedy that unfolded on a beautiful spring day at 2p.m. and captivated the nation and the world came to a fatal conclusion following a three day manhunt more than 100 miles away on a dreary day in Erie, PA.
A man dubbed as the ‘Facebook Murderer’ because he randomly selected an elderly 74- year man and shot him dead at point blank range, and later posted the video on the popular social media site, Steve Stephens, 37, committed suicide after a two- mile chase by Pennsylvania State Police.
Stephens was spotted in a McDonald's parking lot in Erie County just after 11 a.m. by a member of the public who quickly contacted police. After the chase, "troopers attempted a PIT maneuver to disable Stephens’ vehicle...As the vehicle was spinning out of control from the PIT maneuver, Stephens pulled a pistol and shot himself in the head," a state police Facebook statement said.
“We have closure in regards to the search for Steve Stephens,” Mayor Frank Jackson said during a Tuesday afternoon news conference in Cleveland.
Ironically, as Stephens determined his own fate, the family of the beloved Robert Godwin was making preparations for his funeral service, soon to close the chapter on this unspeakable tragedy.
Godwin, the doting father of nine, grandfather to 14, a man treasured by all who knew him and now by those who learned of him did not deserve to die.
Stephens shot and killed Godwin on that unforgettable Easter Sunday April 16,
as the retired foundry worker looked for scrap aluminum cans along East 93rd Street in the city's Glenville.
The killer made Godwin say the name of his own estranged girlfriend, as a frightened Godwin pleaded.
In the shooting video, Stephens told Godwin a woman's name and said, “She's the reason that this is about to happen to you.” The victim did not seem to recognize the woman's name. The gunman then pointed a weapon at Godwin, who shielded his face with the plastic bag.
Godwin's daughter said he was killed while collecting cans in a plastic shopping bag.
“Not because he needed the money; it was just something he did,” said 52-year-old Debbie Godwin. “That's all he was doing. He wasn't harming anyone.”
The incident paralyzed the city and eventually parts of the nation, as Stephens had posted he also killed about 13 others. Those allegations proved to be unfounded by a web of law enforcement that included the FBI. Stephens also claimed in subsequent Facebook video posts that he "snapped," but vowed to kill as many people as he could.
As Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams pleaded with Stephens to call local clergy and turn himself in, so too did other members of the community to no avail. The killer eluded them all despite a $50,000 reward, and billboards throughout the nation.
Stephens blamed the his dire circumstances for his catastrophic behavior, a filed bankruptcy, two evictions, mounting gambling debts and the break-up to his girlfriend Joy Lane, who was immediately taken into protective custody for her own safety after the murder of Godwin.
Rumors ran rampant and some 400 tips later, there was still not sighting until he was spotted at McDonalds on April 18, sped away and subsequently ended it, almost like he began it, in the most cowardly fashion.
While, the friends and associates of Stephens expressed shock and dismay at how frantically his life unwound, Godwin’s family leaned on their Christian beliefs taught to them by their father and offered prayers and forgiveness to the man who took the life of their father.
Godwin was a gentle man.
Dozens of family, friends and community members gathered the day after the murder in Cleveland for a vigil to remember Godwin. They hugged and comforted one another and called for an end to the violence on their streets.
The woman Stephens spoke of, Joy Lane, said in a text to CBS that “we had been in a relationship for several years. I am sorry that all of this has happened.” She said Stephens was “a nice guy” who was generous to everyone.
Detectives spoke with Stephens on Sunday by cellphone and tried to persuade him to surrender, but he refused.
Stephens worked at Beech Brook, a social services agency in Beachwood that deals with vulnerable young people. He helped them gain job skills and find employment, said Beech Brook spokeswoman Nancy Kortemeyer.
An extensive background check before he was hired turned up nothing worrisome, she said.
Now, all of the questions rattling in the heads of friends, family, law enforcement, the victim family and friends will never be answered, but in bewilderment we all will still wonder why did this ever have to happen?