Following a hostage rescue via Twitter

Will and his flat mates were two floors below.

Watching a news story unravel on television is the norm, but watching a hostage rescue operation reach its eventual, successful conclusion via Twitter gave an insider’s blow-by-blow account as to what was happening in Palermo neighbourhood on Wednesday.

When the superintendent of 1947 Aráoz street and three members of her family were taken hostage on the sixth floor of that building early in the morning, Will Aquino was in the right place at the right time to document the unravelling events online by default —as his apartment two floors down was used as a base by an armed police team while they prepared for the rescue operation.

Micro-blogging site Twitter — where users have just 140 characters to express themselves and “follow” other users (US singer Britney Spears has the most followers, topping in excess of five million yesterday afternoon) — was an ideal way for him to recount by-the-second action to his followers eager to find out how the operation was progressing.

The first “tweet” from @AquinoWill, as the US events organiser is known on the site, was self-explanatory: “HOLY SHIT! There are 3 people that took a family hostage 2 floors above my place! Shots were fired earlier. SHIT IS GOING DOWN.” In fact, there were four hostage-takers aged between 19 and 25 who had entered the building under the illusion that the superintendent was storing a large sum of cash in her home.

@AquinoWill originally posted messages on social networking website Facebook, but moved to the micro-blogging site as it was a more efficient way to record events, calling the former “too hectic.” Short, sharp bursts of commentary documenting every movement took journalism to a different level, however, it probably served equally as a distraction during a unique yet tense situation in which he was inadvertently involved.

Although specific information doesn’t always appear in the Twitter monologue, “the cops [who] set up shop in my apt” were in fact the Federal Police Special Operations’ Group (GEOF), armed with machine-guns and the “latest technology with meter long antennae.”

Despite the gravity of the situation which lasted around six hours, @AquinoWill tried to maintain a sense of humour. When @sorrelmw asked how he and his two flatmates were, @AquinoWill replied: “We are ok, id like to think the now 15 or so guys with semi automatic weapons in my living room got my back haha.”

Privvy to all aspects of the drawn-out operation, AquinoWill was “listening to everything going on upstairs via walkie talkie. Sounds like all of the guys are talking about giving up except one”, but the hostage situation started reaching its conclusion when @AquinoWill posted an “UPDATE. Masks are going on, guns in hand. We were just asked to go to our rooms.”

Just 15 minutes later at 3.57pm, the four armed men, who had previous records for similar situations, gave themselves up and were arrested. Referring to his flatmates, @AquinoWill’s final post stated: “@jpgninja @miguelsalas are safe and the bad guys are in police custody.”

First published in the Buenos Aires Herald on August 16, 2010.

Will Aquino will also be talking to me about his experience on BA live, on Urbana 89.5FM, on Thursday, August 19, 2010.

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