As police in several states are searching for the man who police say shot a Cleveland retiree and then posted video of the killing on Facebook, an unconfirmed sighting of the man in West Fairmount Park on Monday afternoon put more than 30 Philadelphia schools on lockdown for about two hours.
Philadelphia police said they received "multiple 911 calls" stating that Stephens might be in the area of Belmont Plateau. But they also stated "so far there is no indication that the subject is" anywhere in Philadelphia.
Statement on police activity in Fairmount Park regarding Cleveland Ohio homicide suspect Steve Stephens pic.twitter.com/qYkd2DzxbP
— Philadelphia Police (@PhillyPolice) April 17, 2017
During a police briefing in Cleveland about 3:30 p.m., Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams was asked if there was any truth to the rumor that the suspect was spotted in Philly.
“No, there’s no truth to that, but, again, we’re receiving dozens and dozens of tips, and we follow up on all tips that we receive.”
Philadelphia school officials said the lockdown was lifted at 2:55 p.m., roughly 2 hours after it began.
Lee Whack, a spokesman for the School District of Philadelphia, said police requested that more than 30 schools lock down as a precaution. "Schools that were on lockdown dismissed according to their regular schedule," Whack said in a statement.
Law enforcement officials in New York, Indiana and Michigan are also on the lookout for Stephens, at the request of Cleveland police and U.S. Marshals. He was believed to be driving a white Ford Fusion with a temporary Ohio license plate No. E363630.
Schools are on lockdown, but no roads are closed in/around Fairmount Park, and this softball game (or practice) is ongoing pic.twitter.com/cVfqW1H6NX
— Chris Palmer (@cs_palmer) April 17, 2017
At High School of the Future in Parkside, students and teachers were huddled away from windows in darkened rooms, said one teacher. The lockdown was called at 1 p.m., and the final bell rang at 2:34, but teens and staff remained in their second-to-last period classes, said the teacher, who asked not to be identified.
No one was told why the lockdown was called; some were checking smartphones for more information.
The mood, overall, was calm, said the teacher, though some were beginning to worry about after-school commitments.
Activity in Fairmount Park seemed to continue normally Monday afternoon despite news of the unconfirmed sighting.
A girls' softball team was practicing, people walked their dogs, and streets winding through the park remained open.
Tariq Lear, 46, sat on the bed of his pickup truck at Belmont Plateau with his dog Kobe panting nearby. When Lear first pulled into the park, he said, there was so much helicopter traffic overhead, "I thought it was like a UFO sighting."
Police vehicles continued to circle the grounds for a few minutes, Lear said, but slowed down after about a half hour.
Lear doubted Stephens was around, but said he thought Philadelphia police would be on top of the situation either way.
"I know they'd catch him," he said.
On Sunday, Steve Stephens, a 37-year-old job counselor for teens and young adults, allegedly killed Robert Godwin Sr., a 74-year-old former foundry worker, in a random shooting, the Associated Press reported.
Actual photo of Steve Stephens, homicide suspect's, actual vehicle. Please call 9-1-1 if seen. Plate not yet available. pic.twitter.com/hn8a8nQEAP
— Cleveland Police (@CLEpolice) April 16, 2017
Numerous police units responded to the site, where Godwin had been collecting aluminum cans, after a report that Stephens was broadcasting a live video of the murder. Facebook later said the video was not broadcast live; it was up for about three hours before being taken down, along with Stephens' full Facebook page.
In another video, Stephens, who is wanted on a charge of aggravated murder, claimed that he was responsible for killing more than a dozen other people.
"I killed 13, so I'm working on 14 as we speak," he said in that video.
Police, however, said the only victim linked to Stephens so far is Godwin, a father of 10.
Cleveland police searched dozens of places around the city and spoke with the suspect by cellphone. The motive for the shooting was not clear.
In the shaky Facebook video, Stephens told Godwin a woman's name, Joy Lane, and said, "She's the reason that this is about to happen to you." Godwin did not seem to recognize the woman's name. The suspect then pointed a gun at Godwin, who shielded his face with a plastic bag.
— Cleveland Police (@CLEpolice) April 17, 2017
Lane, when contacted by CBS, said of Stephens: "We had been in a relationship for several years. I am sorry that all of this has happened."
Godwin apparently was out picking up cans in a plastic shopping bag when he was killed, his daughter said.
"Not because he needed the money, it was just something he did," said 52-year-old Debbie Godwin. "That's all he was doing. He wasn't harming anyone."
She said her father was a gentle man with nothing mean about him. "We called him the junk man," she said. "He'd pick up things off the street and fix them. He picked up bikes and he fixed them."
"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."
Stephens worked at Beech Brook, a behavioral health agency headquartered in Pepper Pike, near Cleveland. He helped young people develop job skills and find employment, said Beech Brook spokeswoman Nancy Kortemeyer.
An extensive background check before he was hired turned up nothing worrisome, she said.