What do you do with a 13-year-old who on a Sunday afternoon sneaks into your compound and plucks a fruit? Whatever else you may do, you don't shoot him dead. The brutal July 3 murder of Dilson inside the Old Fort Glacis Officers' Enclave near Island Grounds in Chennai has justly caused public outrage and nothing short of the early arrest of the killer will assuage the ruffled sentiments of the community, especially the family and neighbours of the victim. Dilson, son of a poor couple living nearby, and one of his friends reportedly trespassed into the residential enclave in search of badam nut. Details of the investigation available so far indicate that he was fired upon from inside the compound. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has voiced her severe condemnation and sternly demanded that the suspect be handed over to the State police for investigation. On record, the Army authorities have claimed that they are providing full assistance to the Crime Branch-CID of the State police, which has taken over the investigation, and that all those in the vicinity, including Army personnel and a civilian security guard on duty at that time in the compound, have been made available for investigation. However, one cannot but note with dismay that the defence authorities were reluctant to acknowledge the victim's family's version that the boy was shot — until the autopsy report confirmed that he died of a bullet wound on his head. This does carry the scent of an attempted cover-up.

If the killer turns out to be one from the military — and especially an officer of some seniority, as is suspected — it will be a blot on the Army's reputation. After all, Chennai is far from any zone of conflict, and the scene of the crime was hardly close to any sensitive installation to provide the slightest excuse for opening fire at the first sight of an intruder. Any attempt to justify the killing on the ground that the boy's presence posed any imminent security threat will be highly specious. Instead, it would be in the interest of justice as well as the Army's reputation if its top officers stepped in and helped nail the culprit. The investigation is no easy task as the Army maintains that there was no armed guard present in the vicinity. Expert reports based on forensic and ballistic examination may hold the key to cracking the case. While there is little reason to doubt that the CB-CID will ultimately zero in on the suspect with judicially acceptable evidence, one hopes that the delay in apprehending the killer does not prove costly by affording enough time for the weapon involved being disposed of without a trace.

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