Around 5:30 on Thanksgiving afternoon, I received a chilling text from my friend. It read, "Guys, Shane is missing."
My heart sank. I refused to believe the words that I had just read, but already questions were racing through my head. Unfortunately, many of those questions were not answered quickly. Some still remain unanswered.
Shane Montgomery, a 21-year-old senior and one of my best friends at West Chester University, went missing early on Thanksgiving morning last year. He had been at Kildare's Irish Pub, which was crawling with people, on Main Street in Manayunk with a bunch of his friends, including his cousin. Shane was led out of Kildare's by a bouncer just before 2 a.m. after stumbling over a barstool. The last ping from his cellphone, from a tower in Lower Merion at 2:38 a.m., had him within 4,500 feet of the CVS pharmacy on Main Street, about a mile from the bar.
Search parties were led all across Philadelphia in pursuit of Shane. Many of his friends walked the streets of Manayunk, going in and out of bars, asking if anyone had seen him that night. Shane's parents, Karen and Kevin Montgomery, hoped Kildare's might provide information about where their son had gone but, unfortunately, the bar does not have a video camera installed outside of their pub. It was not until Dec. 10, 13 days after Shane went missing, that the first piece of solid evidence was found.
Video from a local business showed Shane walking across a bridge spanning the Manayunk Canal toward a parking lot that is next to the Schuylkill. Police and divers refocused on the river and canal. Shane's keys were found in the water near the river bank on Dec. 21, and, on the morning of Jan. 3, his body was finally found in the Schuylkill.
Throughout the weeks Shane was missing, my friends and I were a part of a search party that trekked along the busy streets of Rittenhouse Square in hope of getting some answers to our questions. As the day turned into a frigid December night, we carried on. Our feet were freezing, making it harder to continue, but we persevered. After each unsuccessful visit into a restaurant or bar, where we would hang up posters and ask customers if they were out on Thanksgiving eve in Manayunk, our hopes waned. Everyone had heard Shane was missing, but nobody we spoke to over those eight long hours had seen him. We had nothing to show for our hard work.
I do not believe that a video camera at Kildare's would have prevented Shane's death. However, if there had been such surveillance tapes it might not have taken a month and half to find him. Footage of Shane crossing the bridge allowed FBI agents and others to focus on the area where, eventually, they retrieved his body.
Some people oppose video cameras in public places because they see them as an invasion of privacy. That argument was made when Congress passed the first major electronic surveillance law in 1968. Lawmakers, too, wanted to balance the privacy interests of citizens with legitimate law-enforcement needs. In 1986, Congress followed up with the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which granted law enforcement the use of video surveillance and other rapidly expanding technologies. Again, there was an attempt to balance privacy rights with public safety.
In February, City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., proposed the Shane Montgomery Bill, which would require businesses with a liquor license to install at least one outside camera. The bill allowed for reimbursement to businesses for part of the installation costs. Jones noted that a video of Main Street in Manayunk could have helped answer questions about Shane's disappearance sooner.
On June 8, Karen Montgomery, spoke to City Council about Jones' bill. "I have no delusions that any camera would have saved my Shane," she said. "However, I am convinced without a doubt that had video shown his direction upon leaving his last stop, the suffering endured during searches without direction would have been lessened." She also told the Council's Public Safety Committee that, after weeks of searching, it was footage from one camera that finally provided the first clue toward recovering Shane.
Despite strong support for the bill, some people, including bar and restaurant owners, strongly oppose it. They cite logistics, costs, and concerns about police surveillance. They worry that what would normally be a private business decision to install a camera would now be required by government mandate.
Although video footage would not have saved the life of my good friend, I believe that installing cameras outside of bars would be in the best interest of public safety. The weeks spent aimlessly looking for Shane, and the pain that friends and family members endured, could have been eased drastically with the aid of video surveillance.