Arson and murder suspect Aaron Wilson Dishong's Facebook page, public for anyone to view, gives a startling look at the 62-year-old's mindset in the days leading up to the tragic Nov. 15 duplex fire that killed a 3-year-old boy.
"A true love can not be shut off with a goodbye like some wonts [sic]. love goes two ways It only ends if you want it to but when I go Ill take that love with me," a post on Dishong's page stated.
Dishong set the fire at 113 S. Second St. because he thought an ex-girlfriend who he was stalking and who filed for a protection-from-abuse order against Dishong, was staying at the home.
Brandy Etchison, 33, and her two children, 3-year-old Darrel Etchison Jr. and 2-year-old Madison, were sleeping inside when flames ripped through the home, killing Darrel and sending his mother and sister to a Pittsburgh hospital.
"good bye everyone had a great life just have to bring things to an end for someone and me," was Dishong's final post, a post that since his arrest Nov. 15 has drawn only one comment that details Dishong's alleged crime to put his cryptic farewell to the world into context.
As social media sites such as Facebook bring more private lives into public view, police are noticing and turning to the information posted by users to do more than just gather incriminating evidence.
At the Altoona Police Department, officers have moved beyond looking and are interacting with the public, something that Sgt. Brian Freiwald said is helping police connect better with the community and people they serve.
"We put information out there and we get an overabundance of information back," Freiwald, who maintains the department's Facebook page, said.
Altoona police recent posts feature arrests, lists of fugitives, traffic information and reminders of upcoming Neighborhood Watch meetings. They even tug at the heart strings: a Nov. 5 post was about a Yorkshire Terrier puppy, posed with a police badge, that was reunited with its rightful owners.
"People love anything with animals," said Freiwald, who added that the puppy post received about 8,000 views and generated calls from as far away as England.
"I like that they put everything out there: somebody's that wanted for domestic violence, the [South Second Street] fire and what roads that are blocked," Cherene LaScola, 42, of Altoona said. "Because of their Facebook page, they're more accessible."
When the remnants of Hurricane Sandy roared through the area, APD's Facebook page was great at helping her know the conditions around the city, LaScola said.
"You knew what areas to avoid," said LaScola.
Between Oct. 30 and Nov. 5 - the seven-day period when the remnants of Hurricane Sandy roared through the area - 40,530 people were reached by the page, giving police a quick way to pass along valuable information about closed roads and shelters, Freiwald said.
The number of phone calls to the station was noticeably less when compared with similar storms in the past, Freiwald said.
Altoona police started a Facebook page on Nov. 12, 2010, but it wasn't until the beginning of October when they started to update the page and interact with users. It's the interaction that sets the page apart from most other police department sites in Pennsylvania, Freiwald noted.
"We like to keep the information as fresh as possible for our users," Freiwald explained.
The community has reciprocated that sharing of information.
"The flow of information has been overwhelming," Freiwald said, adding the Facebook page makes the police more approachable to the public. "People seem more willing to share information with police."
Whether uncovered on Facebook or provided to them by other users, officers make the most of what they learn through social media, Freiwald said. When Dishong was arrested, APD's page was hit with information about the arson and murder suspect within 10 minutes of Freiwald posting a press release about the arrest.
"We were getting information, 'Did you see what he put on his Facebook?' along with links to his page," Freiwald said.
"I know I've made tips," Marcy Scolaro, 41, of Altoona said. "I feel safe doing it that way."
Scolaro, owner of the Villa Capri restaurant on the 100 block of East Second Avenue, said she checks the APD Facebook page about twice a day and especially likes it when "the bad guys" chime in on comments.
"I absolutely love that page," Scolaro said of the APD page on Facebook. "First of all, it lets the whole town know what's up with people and what they're doing."
Freiwald said the page is adding up "Likes" at a steady pace and has eclipsed the 4,000 mark.
Facebook also provides the tools to measure what is working and what is not by breaking down the posts by how many times they've been viewed, shared and other metrics, such as how many people have been reached and where they are geographically.
"We can see what works," Freiwald said.
Informational posts, such as how to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft, hold less interest than posts dealing with crimes and suspects, he said.
"Certainly, they want to see arrests," Freiwald said.
When Altoona police post a virtual wanted poster of a suspect, it doesn't take long before Scolaro shares it on her Facebook page.
"I share it, someone on my list shares it and they can catch them real quickly," said Scolaro. "You get a couple hundred people sharing your photo and somebody's going to know you."
Joseph Bobak IV, assistant professor of criminology at Mount Aloysius College, said social media is an effective way for police to connect with the community.
"If you did it well, it could be a good tool for police investigations, recruitment and crime prevention," Bobak said.
With statistics showing that most crime is committed by people between the ages of 18 and 25, it makes sense also that police tap into social media, Bobak said.
Although it may seem strange to some, sites like Facebook can produce incriminating evidence. People, especially teenagers and those in their 20s, post video, pictures and statements that can act as a permanent record of their misdeeds.
"They believe no one will see it," said Bobak. "The older generation doesn't understand why would you post evidence of a crime on Facebook. It's a part of their lives and is how the younger generation communicates, like telling a friend about a crime was in the past."
Unlike a confession to a friend, a Facebook post is hard to deny later on.
"It eliminates that deniability aspect," Bobak said.
In Blair County Court last month, Krista M. Crabtree, 23, had her Facebook posts comes back to haunt her after she bragged about breaking into homes while people weren't home as well as pictures in which she posed with stolen guns and jewelry.
Prosecutors used the photos to support their argument that Crabtree, who was sentenced to 15 to 30 years after she pleaded guilty to 16 felonies in connection with seven burglaries, didn't just get caught up with the wrong people but was a criminal who enjoyed making her living by stealing.
While Facebook has caught on, especially among younger officers, as a great way to gather intelligence and evidence, social media also offers police the opportunity to interact with the public and pass along information, Bobak said.
Missing persons, fugitives, mug shots, crime prevention tips and announcements such as trick or treat times are among some of the top ways police can use social media, he said.
The Blair County Sheriff's Department started posting wanted people on its Facebook page in mid-October, with a list of the department's top 10 wanted posted along with photos of the deputies whose job it is to find them.
Sheriff Mitch Cooper said it's the department's warrant division that primarily uses Facebook. The division posts information about fugitives, gives updates as people are caught and also posts reminders such as when the courthouse is closed due to holidays.
"We have been getting some worthwhile information to the department," said Cooper, who said it was some of the younger deputies who approached him about the idea.
"I said, 'Sure.' Anything that will help us with our goal of apprehending fugitives," Cooper said. "I just told them to make sure the information is up to date and accurate."
In Tyrone, during a weekend DUI checkpoint in late August, Tyrone police kept an eye on Facebook so officers would know when word of the check point started to get around town.
Officer Jessica Walk said Facebook can help police in a variety of ways, especially when it comes to putting a face to a name.
"If you get a suspect for a burglary or a robbery you can punch in their name and see what they look like," Walk said. While in the past if police had a name unfamiliar with officers, they had to rely on the Pennsylvania Justice Network, or JNET, which shows a person's driver's license photo.
Even then, when looking to see if a suspect matches what appears in surveillance video, the posed photos only help so much, she said.
"However, on Facebook the pictures of them are more informal," Walk said. "You get to see them how they normally look and dress."
"There are all sorts of avenues they could take a site like this," Bobak said.
With the APD page, if a user has questions or offers up information to police through Facebook, he'll likely get a response, Freiwald said.
For people without a Facebook account, the page is still viewable but not interactive. The ability to respond to user's questions in a timely fashion is what has set APD's Facebook page apart from other departments, most of which are static and provide scant information, he added.
Still, the page isn't about to take the place of 911.
"People need to realize this is not manned 24 hours a day," Freiwald explained. "If there's an emergency, people need to call 911. We don't want to get to the point where people are trying to communicate urgent or life-or-death emergencies to us and no one is there to listen."
Scolaro said she likes the fact she can post her opinion or make a comment on a post and thinks the increased interaction between the police and community benefits everyone.
"They need the general public," Scolaro said. "And they can't go door to door asking people for information."
LaScola, a certified nurse's aide, said she's glad Altoona police use Facebook.
"It's very resourceful and very educational," she said. "More people should use it."
The only negative reactions the department has received about its Facebook page have come from suspects who find their names on the site and their friends, Freiwald said.
The wanted listings have already showed dividends with suspects saying they decided to surrender because they found out they were on Facebook and knew they would eventually be found, Freiwald said.
"It's clear people, as well as the Altoona Police Department, want criminals out of their neighborhoods," he said.
Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.