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Red flag

Published August 14. 2013 05:03PM

We just learned that both violent and property crimes have reduced by nearly half over the past 20 years, but you wouldn't know that from the recent major headlines, one of which occurred in our backyard.

In Monroe County a week ago, a troubled property owner, angry about being forced from the Ross Township property he had been living on, brought a cache of guns to a township meeting and opened fire, killing the township zoning officer and two residents.

Rockne Newell was no stranger to local township officials and police. His drawn out fight over the years with township officials was well documented in newspaper articles.

Sheriff Todd Martin reportedly said after the shooting that his department had a long history with Newell and that deputies knew that Newell displayed unpredictable behavior - he could be outraged and violent one moment and calm the next.

These were among the warning signs that Newell was an unstable person who had violent tendencies.

Meanwhile in Idaho later last week, California teenager Hannah Anderson was rescued as her alleged abductor, James Lee DiMaggio, a double murder suspect, was killed by an FBI tactical team following an intensive three-day search in five western states.

Along with the hundreds of local, state, and federal police agents, law enforcement aircraft, the rescue effort was helped by Amber Alerts, television, flashing roadside signs, and automatic text messages sent with a piercing noise to smart phones.

The major media blitz was a valuable tool but the big break in the case was provided by a suspicious retired sheriff and three others who were riding horseback in Idaho's rugged back country when they confronted DiMaggio.

Mark John, 71, said at a press conference that after meeting DiMaggio and the abducted girl, the picture he saw "just didn't fit."

"He might have been an outdoorsman in California, but he was not an outdoorsman in Idaho," Johns said. "Red flags kind of went up."

When Johns returned home and saw the girl's photographs on a television news report, he immediately called the Amber Alert tip line. That set off the massive manhunt in Idaho. The pair was found not far from where the four men had met the man on horseback.

It's a shame that the "red flags" didn't go up with more people in time to stop the Monroe County shooting tragedy where innocent lives were lost. Rockne Newell had reportedly told his father and others that he planned to kill officials, saying he had nothing left to lose because he'd already been forced off the land.

When the father, Pete Newell, told his son the dispute wasn't worth killing someone over, Rockne then replied with a ominous warning: "I've got to do what I've got to do."

If you're looking for a red flag, that kind of direct statement certainly would qualify.

Two separate crimes in rural and small-town America, one in the Poconos and one in the Idaho mountains, but both had very different outcomes.

The Idaho case ended successfully because a man followed his suspicions and reported his brief encounter with the suspect to authorities,

Unfortunately, the warning signs were ignored and three people died in Monroe County.

By Jim Zbick

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