No Place to Hide

This week, our town (Boonton, NJ) experienced a very unusual tragedy – a fatal shooting. Specifically, and man and wife were out with a young one in a stroller when they were fired on by someone(s) with an assault rifle a gun of some sort. The woman was killed, the man injured, the child unhurt.

This happened several blocks away from us in this quiet residential town, our first hint being a hovering police helicopter overhead very early in the morning.

The husband’s tale of what happened quickly unraveled, and he and a woman whom he knew were charged with murder. The man and his wife were not getting along and this was his plot to get rid of her – a staged shooting.

Senseless, brutal – and now, two young children have to live with the aftermath (as well as the entire extended family and community).

The smoking gun, in this case, wasn’t necessarily the assault rifle. It was text messages, between the man and the shooter during the hours leading up to the shooting. Shoe-leather detective work figuring this crime scene out was vastly aided by damning bits and bytes found strewn all over the place.

Digital footprints. No need for photos, witnesses, fingerprints. The whole scheme was sketched out as a before-the-act confession.

There will always be people who get away with shady stuff, in business and in life. But the hiding places are getting scarcer. Cell phone records, texts, digital cameras, electronic toll tags, traffic cameras, digital documents, copier memories – as digital nodes proliferate, they shine light on previously-darkened hiding places.

I’d be a fool to think that people will stop doing evil things. And sometimes, I have deep concerns about the encroachment of digital everything on privacy. But as a citizen of a peaceful town, when something like this happens where we all walk our dogs and wave to our neighbors, I feel a certain sense of gratitude that there are fewer places to hide.

The helicopter didn’t find the perpetrators. They phoned themselves in. Criminals, crooked business people, and politicians – take note.


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