Six months after the murder of 19-year-old student Jason Rodriguez, Orlando police have finally arrested a suspect. Six months. That's how long it took to untangle the digital detritus of one of the most twisted internet-enabled crimes in memory.
It started with a scorned lover. Rodriguez, an amateur bodybuilder enrolled at Valencia Community College, had recently begun dating the ex-girlfriend of Israel Nieves (pictured above), when he started to receive messages from another woman on Facebook. Or so he thought.
The woman, named Ty Ann, exchanged flirty texts and emails with Rodriguez for a couple of weeks. They even video chatted once, building enough of a relationship that when Ty Ann asked Rodriguez to meet her, in person, at her house, he readily agreed. At around 10.15, he pulled up to the address he'd been given at the corner of Pavilion Drive and Holly Springs Circle. He texted a friend to let them know he'd made it:
"Heading to the chick house ... by Valencia like right there I'll text for the I'm good."
Except there was no Ty Ann. There was no house. There was just, detectives say, Israel Nieves, bandana pulled over his face, gun in hand, waiting to settle whatever score he'd dreamed up when his ex had left him in December. One shot through the side window later, and Rodriguez was dead.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, it wasn't until police searched through phone and email logs that they decided to pursue Ty Ann, and it was months of tracking false email addresses — and an unnamed iPod touch app that sent text messages from a unique number — that they found out that she was, they say, a figment of Israel Nieves's imagination. Investigators traced back Ty Ann's communiques to Nieves's phone, email and iTunes accounts. That video chat? A female friend of the Nieves says he asked her to pose as the flirtatious femme fatale.
Let's not call this a cautionary tale; someone as unbalanced as Nieves would have done something terrible eventually, internet or no. Let's think of it as a reminder, though: That anonymity makes some people capable of anything. That the internet can be a terrifying accomplice. And that tragedies like this are part and parcel of the internet age. [Orlando Sentinel - Thanks Ricky!]