END OF THE ROAD

Facebook Killer Is Dead, But Cleveland’s Nightmare Isn’t

The city’s murder rate was the highest in a decade last year, so no one is sleeping easier after Steve Stephens ended his life outside a McDonalds on Tuesday.

Handout via Reuters

CLEVELAND—When news reached Cleveland that Steve Stephens had killed himself during a short police chase in Erie, Pennyslvania, the people that lived in the neighborhood where the “Facebook Killer” had horrifically shot 74-year-old Robert Godwin on Easter Sunday had no joy or comfort that a just ending had occurred.

“His dying doesn’t make any of us feel better,” said Joe Tate, who lived directly across the street from where Godwin had been killed by Stephens. “It was so weird on that day it happened, so strange where people are having family over for Easter Sunday dinner, and a good man is shot for reasons that we will never really know exactly. Sometimes, as horrible as violent crime can be, you can somehow understand why and it makes a little sense. But this makes no sense and never will.”

“All I know is that everyone in our family—all of our children and grandchildren—and everyone else in this neighborhood, has the same feeling,” Tate continued. “It could have been one of us if we had been outside at that time. I still can’t get that out of my mind. Could have been me or my family or one of our neighbors.”

Godwin, a retired foundry worker, had 10 children, 14 grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren. Some of his children were living in the area where he was killed and where he was visiting for Easter. Godwin would often go fishing on some of the nearby piers in Lake Erie whenever he was visiting his family in this east side part of Cleveland. He had been picking up soda cans while taking an after dinner walk when Stephens pulled up to him. Less than a minute later Godwin was dead. Laying on the sidewalk next to an eight-foot high chain link fence that blocked off about four acres of a vacant lot that used to house a public elementary school.

Since the murder on Sunday, the street where the killing occurred has seen non-stop traffic from media shooting film and the public attaching nearly 100 foil balloons to the fence Godwin lay next to bleeding to death.

“We are glad it is over,” said Anthony Whitmore, who lives a few streets over. “It was so weird it happened on the religious day of resurrection, a day of us celebrating life, and then this was all about death. With the media and the curiosity seekers gone soon, the people on this street can now maybe go back to living their lives.”

According to news reports, police began chasing Stephens in his Ford Fusion after he stopped at a McDonald’s in Erie at about 11 am, where employees at the restaurant recognized him as he used the drive through to order food. The restaurant’s manager said in an interview with the New York Times that Stephens bought a 20-piece order of Chicken McNuggets and a large order of French fries for $5.35 at the drive-through. The restaurant employees recognized him and tried to stall him by withholding his order of large fries for a few minutes.

But Stephens left with only his McNuggets, perhaps sensing danger unfolding if he waited for his fries. But the restaurant had notified police, and after a short chase, police forced Stephens to stop his car. Stephens used a gun to end his life.

“We are grateful this has needed … [but] there a lot of things about this [incident] we don’t know right now,” Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams told the press Tuesday afternoon.

Godwin’s family, though, still was forgiving of the man who killed their father and grandfather. In a TV interview Monday, several of Godwin’s children said they held no animosity against Stephens.

"Each one of us forgives the killer, the murderer,” Godwin’s daughter Tonya Godwin Baines said.

Cleveland City Councilman Jeff Johnson, whose ward includes the street where Stephens shot Godwin, said the city is coming to grips with this shooting, so different from the “usual.” Cleveland had 136 murders in 2016—the most in a decade—and many of the murders were gang-related where the killers knew the victims.

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“People in Cleveland were already aware of the high number of violent crime cases we have in this city, and sometimes the way people react in this area about murder, is that the business and political leadership try to keep the crime out of view,” said Johnson, who is running for mayor. “Maybe this horrible incident so many of us saw reminds people how precious life is and how we have to be made aware of all those killed in our city, how safety is so important because things can happen at random like this incident did.”

Johnson said that investigators theorize Stephens chose the street where he killed Godwin because it was about a mile from where his former girlfriend, who he blamed for his anger, worked at a mental health services agency. Johnson said he was likely cruising the neighborhood streets after driving by her office and then happened on Godwin at random.

About two miles away on the street where Stephens was raised, the media was set up to get any reaction from the Stephens family about Steve’s suicide. One police car sat in front of their home to keep curious passersby from interrupting the quite.

Across the street, Tony Henderson sat on his front porch and said, “I’m tired of all this attention on our street, but that’s what happens when bad things happen.”

Henderson knew Stephens as a kid and told The Daily Beast how the future murderer killed a parakeet and laughed about it in front of him many years ago.

“You could tell there was something wrong with him, and him killing himself isn’t something anyone feel good about,” Henderson said.

“But there is truly some closure with [Stephens] ending his life,” he continued. “It almost like everyone can feel comfortable going back inside their homes and get some sleep. But a lot of us need some time on this. It was just too weird.”