Stephens then blamed the horrific act on Lane, shared the clip on his Facebook page and invented the hashtag #JoyLaneMassacre, which spread as he led police on a manhunt until his death on Tuesday.
Lane wasn’t home when ABC News 5 Cleveland came to her door that afternoon, but that didn’t stop the broadcast. “Neighbors tell me Joy has two very young girls,” the reporter said to the camera. “Very young. … What do you say to them?”
In comments beneath the clip on YouTube, viewers offered suggestions:
“Moral: don’t date Joy Lane.”
“joy lane deserves to fill horrible”
“He killed people because of a fat b—-”
These were representative examples of widespread abuse toward what a CNN writer called the “other victim” in Sunday’s killing — a woman whose name is forever linked to the actions of a man she once dated, and who is still being scapegoated by some for the crime at her dead ex’s behest.
A few hours earlier, Lane had appeared on the news voluntarily. Not at her home, but in a park where she embraced two daughters of Robert Godwin Sr. — the man Stephens is accused of killing.
“I don’t know if I know how to be Joy Lane anymore,” Lane told the Cleveland station WJW.
“The hashtags: #JoyLane, #JoyLaneMassacre. I’ve been called every cuss word in the book. I’ve been told I’m the one who should have died.”
And she has been told that.
“No disrespect but if somebody had to die it should’ve been Joy Lane,” someone wrote on Twitter Monday — when Stephens was still running from police.
An “Original Song About Steve Stephens Ex Girlfriend” appeared on YouTube the same day. Lyrics: “Hell yeah I’m sick, psychotic deranged/And it’s all over a b—- named Joy Lane.”
Lane has defenders, too. “Joy Lane is not to blame,” Ebony wrote on Monday.
In an article on CNN, Jill Filipovic condemned those “doing exactly what Stephens wanted — terrorizing and debasing her by potentially putting her name on the lips of everyone in the country.”
Filipovic also criticized outlets, such as The Washington Post, that printed Lane’s name in early coverage of the killing. She compared the case to that of Elliot Rodger, who killed six people at a university in California several years ago because, he wrote, “I never held hands with a girl.”
Lane didn’t hide from the infamy Stephens forced upon her. She gave comments to reporters in the hours after his gruesome video spread across Facebook.
While expressing sorrow for the killings, she told CBS News that they had been a couple for “several years” and that she knew him as a “kind and loving man.” The Post was unable to reach Lane for comment.
On Tuesday, she told WJW they had once considered marriage and remained friends after mutually separating. Lane had last seen Stephens the night before the killing, she said, and had been unable to reach him by phone afterward.
But many outlets delved much deeper into her background.
“Joy Lane is trending,” was how Rolling Out began an article that combed through Lane’s LinkedIn and Facebook profiles — even after she took them offline, to reveal her education and job to the world. (Lane’s workplace subsequently received threats and had to increase security, according to Cleveland.com.)
“Steve Stephens’s Girlfriend: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know,” was Heavy’s take on a similar Joy Lane info-dump.
Those articles did not blame Lane for the killing — but the information in them helped focus the invective of those who did.
The abuse became so widespread that an entirely different Joy Lane, a comedian from New Jersey, had to issue a public clarification shortly after Godwin’s killing. This did not stop someone from sending the comedian’s sister a threatening message full of racial slurs.
When Lane sat down on a park bench with two of Godwin’s daughters Tuesday morning — shortly before her ex-boyfriend would die in a police chase 100 miles away — she said she felt bad.
“The last thing he would have said was my name,” Lane said about Robert Godwin Sr. “And didn’t know me or why he was saying it.”
The three women hugged.
“I’m very sorry this happened to you guys,” Lane said.
“We are sorry, too,” said one of Godwin’s daughters. “But not your fault.”