Through the tears, the family of an Ohio man whose killing was posted on Facebook on Sunday spoke of forgiving the alleged shooter even as a multi-state manhunt for him intensified.
Steve Stephens, 37, stands charged with Sunday’s aggravated murder of 74-year-old Robert Godwin, a former manufacturing worker, self-taught mechanic, father of 10 and grandfather of 14. Cleveland police said after shooting Godwin, Stephens posted video of the killing on Facebook.
“Each one of us forgives the killer, the murderer,” Godwin’s daughter, Tonya Godwin-Baines said Monday. “We want to wrap our arms around him.”
In a faint voice, another child, Robert Godwin Jr., said: “Steve, I forgive you … I’m not happy [with] what you did but I forgive you,” CNN-affiliate WJW reported.
Godwin taught his children the value of hard work. He taught them how to love God and fear God, and how to forgive, his children said.
“They don’t make men like him anymore. He was definitely one in a million,” said Debbie Godwin, a daughter.
Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams has said Stephens apparently chose Godwin at random.
Law enforcement nationwide were on high alert in the hunt for Stephens, Williams told reporters Monday.
“This is what we would consider a national search for Steve,” Williams told said. “So, we are not going to leave any stone unturned.”
The suspect’s mother said that when she last saw Stephens on Saturday, he said it would be a miracle if she ever saw him again. They spoke the next day, she said, and he told her he was shooting people because he was angry with his girlfriend.
Appearing alongside a US marshal and an FBI agent, Williams said investigators have searched dozens of locations, “to no avail,” and that one of his detectives had spoken to Stephens via cellphone after the killing. He did not elaborate on the call, other than to say the detective attempted to persuade the suspect to surrender.
“We’re still asking Steve to turn himself in, but if he doesn’t, we’ll find him,” the chief said. “We’re not going to stop until we find him.”
He warned any of Stephens’ friends or family members who might assist him while he’s on the lam: “If you think you’re helping Steve, you’re really not. You’re going to get yourself in trouble.”
Report of a cell phone ping
The police chief said authorities didn’t know whether Stephens was still in the Cleveland area. There was no evidence Stephens had left Ohio, Williams said.
Earlier, Cleveland police had urged residents in Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana and Michigan to be on alert.
Though Pennsylvania authorities said that Stephens’ cell phone had issued a “ping,” or a signal, in Erie, Pennsylvania, the Erie police department said it had no knowledge of a ping emitted from its city. Erie is about 100 miles east of Cleveland.
Williams told reporters earlier he couldn’t speak to the report of a ping. Stephens’ last known location was the murder scene, he said.
Stephens is a black male who is 6-foot-1 and weighs 244 pounds. He was last seen wearing a dark blue and gray or black striped polo shirt. He was driving a white Ford Fusion with temporary license plates, Cleveland police said.
“He is considered armed and dangerous, so we want people to be careful out there,” Williams told reporters.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson announced a reward of up to $50,000 for information leading to Stephens’ arrest.
The investigation and search for Stephens began Sunday after several people reported an alarming Facebook post, Cleveland police union president Steve Loomis said
Stephens uploaded a video to his Facebook page showing a gun pointed at a man’s head.
Seconds before the shooting, Stephens asked the victim to say the name of a woman believed to associated with the suspect.
“She’s the reason why this is about to happen to you,” Stephens said.
Then, the gunman fires the weapon. The victim recoils and falls to the ground.
In 911 calls release by Cleveland officials, a woman screamed: “He’s dead. He’s laying there. Oh Lord have mercy.”
Minutes later, in another call, a man said: “Somebody’s right in front of my house that’s dead, been shot.”
The video was posted about 2 p.m. Sunday. Facebook later took it down, calling it prohibited content.
“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,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.
Stephens claimed on Facebook that he committed multiple homicides, but police said they had no knowledge of other victims. He has many traffic violations but no criminal record, Williams said.
“Obviously, he’s got deep, deep issues,” the chief said.
As Cleveland police and the FBI were searching for Stephens, more than 300 tips poured into the department, police said.
‘If you see me again, it’ll be a miracle’
Stephens’ mother, Maggie Green, said the oldest of her three children came by her house Saturday afternoon.
“He said this (was) the last time I was going to see him,” recalled Green, 53.
Green, a former clerk at the Justice Center Complex in Cleveland who is now on disability, said the conversation confused her.
“If you see me again, it’ll be a miracle,” she quoted him as saying.
Green learned about the shooting when her youngest son told her about the video.
She was “just dumbfounded” and called Stephens. He told her he was “shooting people” because he was “mad with his girlfriend” of about three years, she said, explaining it was a brief phone call because her phone died.
The woman believed to be associated with the suspect has told multiple news agencies that she was “overwhelmed” by the tragedy.
“Steve really is a nice guy… He is generous with everyone he knows. He was kind and loving to me and my children,” she told CBS News.
Williams said police have spoken to her, and she is safe and cooperating with the investigation. The woman’s neighbors told CNN that Stephens often stayed at her Twinsburg home with her three young girls. One resident said Stephens was there two days ago fixing the home’s garage.
‘We are shocked’
Stephens is employed at Beech Brook, a behavioral health agency in northeastern Ohio that serves children, teenagers and families, according to a spokeswoman for the facility.
“We are shocked and horrified like everyone else,” said Nancy Kortemeyer. “To think that one of our employees could do this is awful.”
She said Stephens was a vocational specialist who worked with youth and young adults. He had previously worked as a youth mentor, she said.
Beech Brook was closed Monday “for the safety of our employees,” Kortemeyer said. “At this point, we’ll just be closing today, but we’ll take it day by day.”
Victim was ‘a good man’
Robert Godwin was walking on the sidewalk when he met Stephens.
He was on his way home from an Easter meal at his children’s home when he was killed, CNN affiliate WOIO reported.
Brenda Haymon, Godwin’s youngest child from his first marriage, said he was a father of 10.
“He lived a good life. He’s a man people should model themselves after,” she said.
Godwin was also a quiet man. He surprised some family members when he recently spoke at a daughter’s ordination, a granddaughter said.
Brittany Rodriguez, the granddaughter, recalled how she and a cousin videotaped the rare public speech.
“I glad we still have that video,” said Rodriguez, 27, of Niagara Falls, New York.
Godwin’s daughters recalled how he would style their hair and put in a ponytail when they were children.
Debbie Godwin said he would also challenge them to foot races. With boots on, he beat them every time, she said.
Sobbing, daughter Godwin-Baines said: “I would’ve given my life for my father,” WJW reported.
Her message to Stephens: “I just want him to know that God loves him. We love him. Yes, we’re hurt but we have to forgive him.”
She added: “If we don’t forgive him, the Bible says your Heavenly Father won’t forgive you.”