CLEVELAND (CBS News) — Cleveland police say investigators were in contact via cellphone with a suspect who they say fatally shot an elderly man in a gruesome video posted on Facebook.
Police and the FBI in Cleveland said Monday that the suspect, 37-year-old Steve Stephens, could still be in the city or in surrounding states.
Late Sunday, police issued an aggravated murder warrant for him and said in a statement that he may have traveled out of state. A law enforcement source told CBS News investigative producer Pat Milton investigators picked up a “ping” from Stephens’ cellphone around 7 p.m. Sunday night in Erie, Pennsylvania, about 100 miles northeast of Cleveland. But since then investigators have been unable to detect a signal, the source said, and it’s not clear where Stephens may have traveled since.
The search has expanded to other states, and residents of Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, in particular, were asked to be on the alert.
Chief Calvin Williams says detectives talked with Stephens by cellphone Sunday after he shot 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr. but haven’t had contact since.
“Early in this investigation we did have contact with him, direct contact,” Williams said. “The detectives did of course try to convince him to turn himself in and of course that hasn’t happened to date.”
Williams wouldn’t detail Stephens’ demeanor while on the phone with investigators.
“Obviously he’s got deep, deep issues,” Williams said. “Whether he was calm or not, he committed a heinous crime in this city.”
Williams stressed that investigators don’t know where Stephens is and said his last known location was at the scene of the Cleveland slaying. Williams urged Stephens to turn himself in, but said if he doesn’t, “We’ll find him.”
“We’re not going to stop until he’s in custody,” Williams said.
Sunday night, Williams said investigators searched dozens of locations based on leads, to no avail. Electronic billboards across five states will soon be displaying the suspect’s description as police urge anyone with information to come forward.
Stephens is considered to be armed and dangerous. The FBI and U.S. Marshals are aiding in the investigation.
In a statement Sunday night, Facebook said the suspect did go live on the social media site at one point during the day, but not during the killing. Police earlier Sunday had said that Stephens had broadcast it on Facebook Live.
The video of the killing was on Facebook for about three hours before it was removed. Stephens’ Facebook page also was eventually removed.
“This is a horrific crime and we do not allow this kind of content on Facebook,” the company said. “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.”
In the video, which appeared shaky, Stephens got out of his car and randomly targeted Godwin, who was holding a shopping bag. Stephens said the name of a woman, whom Godwin didn’t seem to recognize.
“She’s the reason that this is about to happen to you,” Stephens told Godwin before pointing a gun at him. Godwin can be seen shielding his face with the shopping bag.
Williams told reporters on Monday the woman is safe. Joy Lane, Stephens’ longtime partner, broke her silence on the shooting in a text message to CBS News.
“We had been in a relationship for several years. I am sorry that all of this has happened. My heart & prayers goes out to the family members of the victim(s). Steve really is a nice guy… he is generous with everyone he knows. He was kind and loving to me and my children. This is a very difficult time for me and my family Please respect our privacy at this time.”
In a separate video, Stephens claimed to have killed more than a dozen other people. Williams said police have not verified any other shootings or deaths.
“There are no more victims that we know are tied to him,” he said.
The chief also said investigators have been talking with family members and friends of Stephens, who is employed at Beech Brook, a behavioral health agency headquartered in Pepper Pike, near Cleveland.
“We are shocked and horrified and we don’t know anything more about it,” agency spokeswoman Nancy Kortemeyer told CBS Cleveland affiliate WOIO-TV. “We hope and pray that he is arrested as soon as possible and we hope and pray for a resolution quickly.”
In a statement, Beech Brook said Stephens had been employed there since 2008. He had been working as a vocational specialist for their Assertive Community Treatment program for youth and young adults since April of 2015.
The statement said the agency’s locations would be closed Monday “out of concerns for the safety of our staff, clients and other visitors to our sites.”
Police were searching for a white Ford Fusion that belongs to the suspect. Williams said the car was recently purchased and the plates could have been switched. Police announced the car had an Ohio temporary tag E363630.
Godwin, the victim, was apparently was shot while out on a walk to collect discarded aluminum cans in a plastic shopping bag, something his son told Cleveland.com that Godwin did often. Family told WOIO he had just left an Easter celebration.
A man who spoke with WOIO said the victim was his father.
“He was a good guy. He would give you the shirt off his back,” he said. “I’m not just saying that for these cameras. … This man, right here, was a good man and I hate that he’s gone.”
The victim’s son, Robert Godwin Jr., told Cleveland.com that he couldn’t bring himself to watch the video but learned about it from others.
“I don’t really want to see it,” he said.
Anyone with information is asked to call 911 or 1-800-CALL-FBI.