Search Widens for Cleveland Facebook Murder Suspect -- 2nd Update

By Kris Maher Features Dow Jones Newswires

Cleveland police asked residents in Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana and Michigan to be on alert Monday for a suspect who shot and killed an elderly man over the weekend before posting a video of the seemingly random attack on Facebook.

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Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies were casting a wide net as they coordinated a manhunt for Steve Stephens, 37 years old, who allegedly killed Robert Godwin Sr. in Cleveland on Sunday.

Police said Mr. Stephens posted a video of the homicide on Facebook, showing him walking up to a stranger and shooting him. The Cleveland Division of Police said an aggravated murder warrant had been issued for him. Police said they had no motive for the killing or reason why the victim may have been targeted.

"We're asking the public's help in finding this guy. We know he's out there someplace," said Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams. "He committed a heinous crime in this city and we want to get him off the streets as soon as possible."

Mr. Williams said detectives spoke to Mr. Stephens on Sunday but were unable to persuade him to turn himself in. He said Mr. Stephens didn't have a criminal record, but had numerous traffic violations.

The police chief didn't provide a motive for the alleged killing, but said he thought Mr. Stephens, who appeared relatively calm on the video during the shooting, had "deep, deep issues."

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Police identified the victim as Robert Godwin Sr. In the video, Mr. Stephens gets out of his car and approaches Mr. Godwin, 74, who is walking on the sidewalk and carrying a plastic shopping bag. Mr. Stephens says the name of a woman, and then says to Mr. Godwin, "She's the reason why all this about to happen to you."

In the hand-held video, Mr. Stephens asks Mr. Godwin how old he is before appearing to point a gun at him. Mr. Godwin raises the shopping bag in front of his face as he tries to defend himself.

Mr. Stephens made multiple posts on Sunday, including broadcasting on Facebook Live. In one video clip, he is in his car on a phone call and says he has had a lot of anger and frustration. "I'm at the point where I snapped," he said. Mr. Stephens has claimed he killed other people, but police said they have not verified those claims.

The Facebook posting sparked outrage as it became widely known and shared on Sunday, and the incident recalled several others in which people had broadcast crimes live on the social media site.

The video of the killing was on Facebook for about three hours before it was removed, according to the Associated Press. Mr. Stephens Facebook page also eventually was taken down.

Facebook said Mr. Stephens did post live video on the site on Sunday, but that he didn't post live video of the shooting, according to the Associated Press. Police initially said Mr. Stephens had broadcast it on Facebook Live.

"This is a horrific crime and we do not allow this kind of content on Facebook," said a company spokesperson. "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."

Dozens of other violent and disturbing incidents have been broadcast live through the platform in recent months, including the suicide of a 14-year-old girl in Florida in January.

That same month, four young African-Americans allegedly attacked a disabled white teenager in Chicago and shouted antiwhite obscenities while streaming live. They were charged with kidnapping and hate crimes.

Write to Kris Maher at kris.maher@wsj.com

Cleveland police asked residents in Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana and Michigan to be on alert Monday for a suspect who shot and killed an elderly man over the weekend before posting a video of the seemingly random attack on Facebook.

In a press conference Monday afternoon, local officials announced a $50,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the suspect.

Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies were casting a wide net as they coordinated a manhunt for Steve Stephens, 37 years old, who allegedly killed Robert Godwin Sr. in Cleveland on Sunday.

Police said Mr. Stephens posted a video of the homicide on Facebook, showing him walking up to a stranger and shooting him. The Cleveland Division of Police said an aggravated murder warrant had been issued for him. Police said they had no motive for the killing or reason why the victim may have been targeted.

Officials said they had received "dozens and dozens" of tips on the case and that they were evaluating each one. They have also been in touch with several people that Mr. Stephens had been in contact with and that they had been cooperative with investigators.

"We want to resolve this as quickly as possible, the family deserves that," Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams in the press conference.

Mr. Williams said detectives spoke to Mr. Stephens on Sunday but were unable to persuade him to turn himself in. He said Mr. Stephens didn't have a criminal record, but had numerous traffic violations.

In a 2015 bankruptcy filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Northern District of Ohio, Mr. Stephens said he was about $35,000 in debt. He said had been a social worker for six years in Cleveland.

"I don't think there's any rhyme or reason for it happening," Chief Williams said.

Police identified the victim as Robert Godwin Sr. In the video, Mr. Stephens gets out of his car and approaches Mr. Godwin, 74, who is walking on the sidewalk and carrying a plastic shopping bag. Mr. Stephens says the name of a woman, and then says to Mr. Godwin, "She's the reason why all this about to happen to you."

In the hand-held video, Mr. Stephens asks Mr. Godwin how old he is before appearing to point a gun at him. Mr. Godwin raises the shopping bag in front of his face as he tries to defend himself.

Mr. Stephens made multiple posts on Sunday, including broadcasting on Facebook Live. In one video clip, he is in his car on a phone call and says he has had a lot of anger and frustration. "I'm at the point where I snapped," he said. Mr. Stephens has claimed he killed other people, but police said they have not verified those claims.

The Facebook posting sparked outrage as it became widely known and shared on Sunday, and the incident recalled several others in which people had broadcast crimes live on the social media site.

The video of the killing was on Facebook for about three hours before it was removed, according to the Associated Press. Mr. Stephens Facebook page also eventually was taken down.

Facebook said Mr. Stephens did post live video on the site on Sunday, but that he didn't post live video of the shooting, according to the Associated Press. Police initially said Mr. Stephens had broadcast it on Facebook Live.

"This is a horrific crime and we do not allow this kind of content on Facebook," said a company spokesperson. "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."

Dozens of other violent and disturbing incidents have been broadcast live through the platform in recent months, including the suicide of a 14-year-old girl in Florida in January.

That same month, four young African-Americans allegedly attacked a disabled white teenager in Chicago and shouted antiwhite obscenities while streaming live. They were charged with kidnapping and hate crimes.

Joseph Barrett contributed to this article.

Write to Kris Maher at kris.maher@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 17, 2017 16:17 ET (20:17 GMT)