Picture this: A bunch of people are riding the train. Like most commuters these days, they're staring at their phones: Skimming Twitter, reading books, playing games. A man takes out a .45 pistol. Puts it away. Takes it out again. No one notices. Then, he shoots and kills someone.
Sound like a made-up cautionary tale? It's not: as detailed in a new report in the San Francisco Chronicle, it happened just over a week ago at night on September 23, on a San Francisco Muni train. The whole thing was captured by a Muni security camera.
The gunman in question was Nikhom Thephakaysone, 30, who allegedly shot and killed 20-year-old Justin Valdez as Valdez exited the train. The Chronicle describes the chilling, deadly altercation as an apparently random encounter.
From the Chronicle:
For police and prosecutors, the details of the case were troubling - they believe the suspect had been out "hunting" for a stranger to kill - but so too was the train passengers' collective inattention to imminent danger.
"These weren't concealed movements - the gun is very clear," said District Attorney George Gascón. "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."
Anyone who's used a phone in public knows how distracting they can be; I'm sure I'm not the only one whose curbed my sidewalk usage after almost stepping off a curb into traffic. And yet it's easy to forget that even while seated on a train or bus, it can be dangerous to get too wrapped up in the tiny space right in front of you.
I live in San Francisco, and just this last week, I noticed a new automated message playing on Muni busses and trains. It says, more or less: "Ride safe. Keep your eyes up and your phone in your pocket." Now we know what prompted the new PSA.
Next time you're on the train, deep in your new ebook or a game of Knightmare Tower, remember to get your eyes up every so often. It can be dangerous out there.