The suspect accused of killing a 74-year-old man in Cleveland and then posting a video of the cold blooded slaying on Facebook shot and killed himself Wednesday in Pennsylvania as police were closing in, authorities said.
Steve W Stephens, the subject of a rapidly expanding nationwide manhunt following the horrific slaying Monday in Ohio, was spotted by Pennsylvania State Police troopers in Erie County on Tuesday morning (Wednesday NZ time), the agency announced.
"A traffic stop was attempted, there was a brief pursuit, at which time Stephens shot and killed himself," Pennsylvania State Police communications director Ryan Tarkowski said.
Tarkowski said a coroner was en route to the scene of the shooting in Erie County, which is less than 160 kilometres from Cleveland.
"We have our closure," Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said.
Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said police received a tip around 11am (local time) that Stephens' Ford Fusion was in a McDonald's parking lot in Erie County.
When officers confronted Stephens, he fled in his vehicle before later being stopped, the chief said, adding: "As the officers approached that vehicle, Steve Stephens took his own life."
Williams expressed regret that the three-day pursuit of Stephens "ended with suspect suicide ...We have so many questions."
Investigators don't know yet whether Stephens was being harboured by someone while he was missing; Williams noted that the area where Stephens was found is remote with "lots of places to hide."
"We would like to have brought in Steven peacefully and really talk to him and find out why this happened," Williams said.
The chief said the case started with one tragedy and ended with another. "A loss of life is a loss of life," he said.
Authorities had issued a warrant for Stephens on a charge of aggravated murder and were offering up to $50,000 for information leading to his arrest.
But the 37-year-old suspect, who was one of the FBI's Most Wanted, spent parts of three days eluding local, state and federal law enforcement officers amid an intensifying manhunt.
FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson said hours before Stephens killed himself, that he could be anywhere.
"We've received numerous tips from all over, and we're very appreciative, but none of them have turned out to be him," Anderson told The Washington Post. "So you're going to see law enforcement activity who knows where."
At a news conference in Cleveland, not long before the encounter in Pennsylvania, Williams said authorities had received nearly 400 tips from as far away as Texas. There had been rumoured and reported sightings in Philadelphia, Detroit, Washington, DC, and elsewhere.
The police chief had told reporters: "We're still asking Steve to turn himself in, but if he doesn't, we'll find him. We're not going to stop until he's in custody."
"If there's somebody that's helping Steve, or if you think you're helping Steve, you're really not," he added. "You're going to get yourself in trouble, along with him. The only way for you to help him is to give us the information to bring him in safely, peacefully."
Then the police chief had addressed Stephens directly: "Steve, if you're out there listening, call someone - whether it's a friend or family member or pastor - give them a call; they're waiting for you to call them."
Authorities said Stephens pulled up in his Ford Fusion on a road in East Cleveland about 2pm on Sunday and then said in the Facebook-bound recording: "I found somebody I'm about to kill."
"I'm about to kill this guy right here. He's an old dude," Stephens said as he approached Robert Godwin snr, who was reportedly collecting aluminium cans.
"Can you do me a favour?" Stephens said to Godwin before asking him to say the name "Joy Lane."
"Joy Lane?" Godwin responded.
"Yeah," Stephens replied. "She's the reason why this is about to happen to you."
The chilling video showed Stephens ask Godwin how old he was, raise a gun and pull the trigger. The camera spun around; when the picture came into focus, Godwin was on the ground.
Authorities said the men did not know each other.
In the video, Stephens claimed to have killed more than a dozen people, police said, although they have not confirmed other victims.
In a second video, Stephens was seen on his cellphone, telling someone to go online to watch the footage.
"I shamed myself," he said in a video posted by Cleveland.com. "I snapped. Dog, I just snapped, dog. I just snapped. I just killed 13 mother******, man. That's what I did - I killed 13 people. And I'm about to keep killing until they catch me ... I'm working on 14 as we speak."
Stephens said he was killing people because of Lane.
"She put me at my pushing point, man," Stephens said in the video, laughing and calling it the "Easter Sunday Joy Lane massacre."
CBS News reported that it communicated with Lane via text message.
"We had been in a relationship for several years," she wrote, according to the network. "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."
Williams, the police chief, said Lane is safe and has been co-operating with investigators.
"We've interviewed several people involved in this, and I don't think there's any rhyme or reason for what happened," Williams told reporters Monday. "I don't think there's anything we can point to specifically to say that this is what sparked this. Only Steve knows that."
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Samaritans 0800 726 666
• If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.