Verify: False information circulating in Steve Stephens manhunt

Verify: What is real in Go Fund Me and what is not?

UPDATE | Steve Stephens is dead following a two-day manhunt. CLICK HERE for the latest details on his death.

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Original story:

CLEVELAND -- Your Facebook news feed has likely been flooded with posts on the manhunt for Steve Stephens.

He's the wanted man accused of killing a stranger on Easter and uploading video of the murder on Facebook.

Some posts you may have encountered declare Stephens was on his way to Akron. Others say he was spotted in Painesville or Lorain, among other places throughout the region.

We’ve talked to police, and have confirmed these details are false.

To urge the importance of only following accurate updates, Cleveland police issued a warning on Twitter late Sunday stating “misinformation in emergencies is dangerous.”

WKYC spent the day streaming facts of the case on Facebook, which resulted in a slew of comments with misleading information.

VERIFY: Where is Stephens?

The search for Stephens is now a nationwide one, according to officials at a Monday afternoon press conference. 

A recurring post Facebook is that his cell phone pinged in Erie, Pa.

Early Monday morning, police in the city of Erie -- and the state police -- both said this was unconfirmed information. Shortly before noon, however, a federal law enforcement official told WKYC that Stephens' phone did ping in the Erie area.

That being said, his current whereabouts remain unknown. While he could still be in Ohio, authorities have put neighboring states on alert to keep watch for Stephens.

"As far as we know, right now, we don't know where he's at," Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said. "The last location we actually had him was at the homicide at 93rd Street just north of St. Clair. Anything else right now is kind of speculation. Again, we have investigations going all over this country trying to pinpoint his actual location." 

There was also a reported sighting in Philadelphia, according to NBC Philadelphia. A handful of schools in the Fairmount Park area were placed on lockdown. 

However, Philadelphia police sent out this tweet saying that report was not true (MOBILE USERS: click here to view).  

VERIFY: The number of victims

There are also questions swirling about the number of victims involved. Although Stephens claimed to have killed more people, Cleveland police say there is only one victim confirmed. That man has been identified as 74-year-old Robert Godwin, Sr.

As of Monday morning, there are no additional victims.

VERIFY: Tracking the Ford Fusion

Many have been commenting on social media about authorities tracking Stephens' white Ford Fusion using GPS or locator technology.

"That vehicle is not equipped with any of those systems," Chief Williams stated during a news conference Tuesday morning. "Of course, that's the first thing that we looked at from the dealership aspect, and also from Ford Motor Company itself. The vehicle is not equipped to offer that type of tracking."

That vehicle has a temporary Ohio tag E363630.

VERIFY: The Facebook video

Although authorities initially said Stephens streamed video of the murder live on Facebook, that is not true. A spokesperson with Facebook confirms to WKYC that while Stephens had posted a Facebook live video at some point Sunday, the murder itself was not live.

VERIFY: Occupation as social worker

Some reports stated that he was a social worker at Beech Brook. WKYC checked an online database where you can check the license status of social workers. Stephens wasn’t in that database.WKYC also spoke with Brian Carnahan, theexecutive director of the board that manages social work in Ohio. He confirmed Stephens was not licensed and said his educational background wasn’t sufficient to be licensed.

VERIFY: CCW permit holder

We got this information directly from the joint information center and Cleveland police public information officer Jennifer Ciaccia. She confirmed Stephens was a CCW holder.
There was nothing in his record or medical history that would have prevented him from getting a CCW.Police also said, they do not have a list of weapons that Stephens may own. Either way, we know he’s spent time training at gun ranges and is armed and dangerous.

VERIFY: GoFundMe accounts 

There are dozens of GoFundMe pages established to raise money for the victim's family.

Cleveland police said during a news conference early Monday that these GoFundMe accounts are scams.

The family has not set up any charitable opportunity as of yet, so authorities said please do not donate any money to GoFundMe until further notice.

However, GoFundMe officials told WKYC Monday morning that they have spoken with both the organizer behind this campaign and members of the victim's family. 

"We’ll guarantee the money will be deposited directly into the family’s bank account," a representative from the company told WKYC via email.

While there may be multiple GoFundMe pages already established, the company's directing people only to the page linked above. 

"Regardless, all funds raised for the Godwin’s will be transferred directly to the family," the representative continued. "It’s important to remember that our platform is backed by the GoFundMe Guarantee, which means funds are guaranteed to go to the right place." 

As of 11 p.m. on Monday, over $48,000 had been raised for the Godwin family.

VERIFY: Confirmed details

Stephens is wanted for aggravated murder in the shooting death of Godwin, which happened at 695 East 93rd Street.

He was last seen driving a white 2016 Ford Fusion with temporary tag E363630.

Stephens, 37, is described as 6'1" tall and weighs 244 pounds. He's bald with a full beard.

Offices of local behavioral agency Beech Brook are closed Monday.

Officials with the group said Stephens has been employed with the organization as a youth mentor and a vocational specialist since 2008.

The Ohio chapter of the National Association of Social Workers posted on its website that Stephens is not a licensed social worker in the state. 

CLICK HERE for more confirmed facts of the case.

VERIFY: Sources

Various local law enforcement: 

  • Cleveland police
  • Cleveland FBI
  • Painesville police
  • Lake County Sheriff
  • Lorain police
  • Erie police
  • Erie State Police
  • Beech Brook
  • Facebook
  • NBC Philadelphia
  • Philadelphia Police Department 

VERIFY: Resources

Cleveland police Twitter

Cleveland police updates

Latest facts in the case

Help VERIFY

Help our journalists VERIFY the news. Do you know someone else we should interview for this story? Did we miss anything in our reporting? Is there another story you'd like us to VERIFY? Click here.

© 2017 WKYC-TV


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