Steve Stephens: Chicken McNuggets and fries order led police to 'Facebook killer'

Mythili Sampathkumar
A staff member at the restaurant in Erie County, Pennsylvania recognised Mr Stephens and called the police, while another employee told him his meal would be delayed: Reuters

Steve Stephens, the “Facebook killer,” committed suicide after being tracked down following nearly 48 hours on the run when he stopped at a McDonald's to pick up some food.

A staff member at the restaurant in Erie County, Pennsylvania - approximately 100 miles east of Mr Stephens' home in Cleveland, Ohio - recognised him as he pulled up to the drive-thru window and called the local police.

Another employee stalled Mr Stephens until Pennsylvania State Police arrived. “We told him his fries were going to be a minute,” Henry Sayers, the restaurant’s manager told the Erie Times-News.

Franchise owner Thomas DuCharme Jr said: “I am pretty sure he figured out that we were on to him. He didn’t want to wait for his fries.” He told CNBC he was “very proud" of how the staff handled the potentially dangerous situation.

Police engaged in a "brief pursuit" after Mr Stephens drove away from the restaurant, according to Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams

“As the officers approached that vehicle Steve Stephens took his own life,” he said.

Law enforcement officials preferred that it had not ended this way” given the circumstances of the case, Mr Williams noted.

Mr Stephens, 37, had been on the run for nearly 48 hours after filming himself walking up to and shooting dead Robert Godwin, 74 in Cleveland, Ohio.

He did not broadcast the killing on Facebook Live as previously thought but did post the video to his account, where it remained for nearly three hours. His account was later suspended by Facebook, whose CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during a conference that the company "will keep doing all of what we can to keep tragedies like this from happening."

Mr Godwin was just walking down the street on Easter Sunday when Mr Stephens pulled up to him and shot him in the head. It appears to have been a random killing.

In the video Mr Stephens also spoke of several other victims and how was searching for more people to kill, the main reason law enforcement preferred to bring him in alive.

The Cleveland police, FBI, and US Marshal Service are working now to retrace Mr Stephens' steps between the time of the murder and being spotted in Pennsylvania. However, Steve Anthony of the FBI said on 18 April there was no evidence that Mr Stephens killed anyone besides Mr Godwin.

At first the manhunt was expanded only to include the surrounding states of Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, and Indiana. Mr Stephens' mobile phone signal had actually pinged near Erie, Pennsylvania during the morning of 17 April. Federal law enforcement did an initial search of the area but found nothing.

Tips poured in and Mr Williams said the police had been “getting calls from all over the country, as far away as Texas.” Consequently, the search was expanded nationwide.

Mr Anthony and Peter Elliott of the US Marshals Service confirmed that the manhunt for Mr Stephens was a top priority for both federal agencies.

Reports of Mr Stephens being spotted near Philadelphia on 17 April resulted in several schools being put on lock down. The reported turned out to be a false alarm.

Police circled back to search the Erie area once again on 18 April just hours before Mr Stephens pulled into the McDonald's.

Mr Stephens worked at a behavioural health agency helping at-risk children through mental health counselling, adoption services, and foster care placement. The office closed on 17 April out of precaution.

According to his video, he had also gone to visit his mother the day before Mr Godwin's murder. He reportedly told her that he was suicidal and likely to kill people, however he felt he was not taken seriously.

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