CSI: Beaufort High

Students re-enact crime scene investigation in new class

tbarton@beaufortgazette.comAugust 23, 2013 

A new course at Beaufort High School teaches students how to analyze a crime scene, with some help from the county coroner.

Chelsea Welty dons latex gloves and begins to inspect the "body."

The dummy is cool and stiff, and there is a head wound.

"Rigor mortis has set in," says Beaufort County Coroner Ed Allen, who looks on as Welty continues her examination.

Meanwhile, Farrell Wright begins to sketch the scene, while Jake Sharp takes photos -- starting with wide shots of the room and closing in on the dummy.

So began a new course at Beaufort High School on Wednesday. The mock investigation is part of a class on biomedical science offered through Project Lead the Way, a national engineering and science curriculum that allows students to earn college credit.

Welty, Wright and Sharp find the dummy in a pool of fake blood beside a broken table, an overturned lamp, a syringe, two white pills, some fake vomit and a glass half-filled with an orange liquid.

Welty finds a strand of hair and shoe prints and "blood" smears on the table and at the dummy's head and feet.

Others begin marking the objects in the room with numbered pieces of yellow paper. Two more begin measuring the body's distance from walls and the door. Cotton swabs are used to take samples.

Allen was on hand to help the students process the evidence.

Over the course of the school year, students will learn how to analyze the crime scene and conduct experiments to determine a cause of death -- and if a crime might have been committed, instructor Bradley Smith said. Students will analyze DNA, toxicology, blood spatter, medical history and autopsy reports.

"These students will be experiencing things most students will not experience until they get to a college-level science class," Smith said.

A number of students have expressed interest in forensic science in recent years, said Smith, who felt the class would serve as a fun, engaging way to introduce them to physiology, biology, medicine and scientific research.

Crime-science shows such as the "CSI" series have piqued interest in the field, but many students often enter such programs with unrealistic expectations, according to national studies.

For example, in real investigations, DNA often cannot be obtained and, when available, can take months to process, Allen said.

Although the Beaufort High class has the hallmarks of a hit prime-time crime drama, Allen praised the class for giving students a grasp of scientific principles that are part of real forensics work.

"It's not like how you see on TV," he said. "You don't just rush in and gather the evidence, and all this neat technology will help you solve the case almost immediately."

It takes time and meticulous work, developing and performing experiments, observing and analyzing data, and publishing logical conclusions based on results, Allen said.

Senior Nastassha Holmes, 17, who enjoys watching crime shows, signed up for the class to learn about pathology as she contemplates a medical career.

"For me, I'm excited more to learn about body functions and how different diseases relate to certain changes in the human body," Holmes said.

Getting to solve a mystery is a big plus, but for Smith, "the excitement is in the process."


Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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