Phone-Obsessed Train Passengers Didn't Spot Gunman

People need to be aware of surroundings, police warn

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Oct 9, 2013 1:14 AM CDT | Updated Oct 9, 2013 7:00 AM CDT

(Newser) – When a killer in search of a victim pulled out his handgun on a crowded commuter train in San Francisco last month, the dozens of passengers nearby were so engrossed in their smartphones and tablet computers that they didn't notice a thing, police say. Security video shows the gunman repeatedly flashing the .45 caliber pistol with other passengers close by, pointing it across the aisle and even using the hand holding the gun to wipe his nose before shooting university student Justin Valdez dead, apparently at random, police tell the San Francisco Chronicle.

"These weren't concealed movements—the gun is very clear," the district attorney says. "These people are in very close proximity with him, and nobody sees this. They're just so engrossed, texting and reading and whatnot. They're completely oblivious of their surroundings." The city's police chief says that while the force appreciates the evidence cell phone videos provide, people who use smartphones in public need to pay more attention to their surroundings, because being preoccupied makes them "so incredibly vulnerable to crime." A 30-year-old man has been charged with the student's murder.

This image taken from a surveillance video and provided by the San Francisco Police Department shows suspect Nikhom Thephakaysone on a MUNI train in San Francisco.   (AP Photo/San Francisco Police Department)
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What happens to public places when everybody is talking on a cell phone? Everyone is somewhere else. - Ohio State University professor
Jack Nasar

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