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Youngsters work to crack the case at forensic investigation camp

Students at the 2018 forensic investigation camp

For four days in June, the WVU Tech campus became a proving ground for young investigators. The Forensic Investigation camp for high school students ran June 11-14 – and it taught students from throughout the region how to effectively analyze evidence and decipher crime scenes.

In a disheveled room in the WVU Tech Crime Scene House, students like Jed White examined the position of a dummy behind crime scene tape. The victim wasn’t talking, but combined with bullet holes in the wall and a laser used to determine bullet trajectory, there was a story being told.

White, a rising tenth-grader from Lewisburg, West Virginia, found himself fascinated with the field of forensics. He says he can see himself becoming a detective, investigator or attorney so that he can work in the field.

Forensic Camp student Jed White works to investigate a crime scene.Camper Jed White examines a crime scene.

"To me, solving puzzles is always fun and this is a way to do that to help people. It's the right thing to do. It makes you feel like you're doing your part as a citizen," he said.

Roger Jefferys organized the camp. A professor in the forensic investigation program at Tech, he said the goal was to expand a student’s understanding of what the field entails.

“Forensics incorporates many different areas that fit the skills and interests of many students. If crime scenes are not your thing, maybe psychology is, for example,” he said. “Many of the students when polled in the camp had not taken any forensic classes in school, so it certainly provides them with a firsthand look into what forensic scientists and investigators do."

He said this year’s camp provided more specialized courses.

“When you hear the term forensics, you often think about crime scene investigation, fingerprints, and the like, but not so much about anthropology, psychology, or archaeology. These types of career fields often require specific education, training and experience,” he said. 

In a brightly lit classroom across campus, 14-year old Madison Lilly from Narrows, Virginia, was examining a blood-stained t-shirt. The class was learning about DNA evidence and presumptive testing for blood. She said she was most excited to learn about biological evidence. 

"I've always been interested in biology and I want to go into forensic pathology," she said.

Her mother is a nurse and her father is an attorney, so she said the field is the best of both worlds.

"I've had the side of medicine and the side of law in my life, so those have kind of fused together for me for my interests," she said.

This was Lilly’s second time attending the camp.

Forensic Camp student Madison Lilly works on a forensic dig to find evidence.Madison Lilly (right) digs for evidence during the camp.

"It was just it was so hands-on and we only had two days last year. When I heard they doubled the amount of time we'd have, I was so excited," she said.

For camp counselors like Erik Massey, a sophomore forensic investigation major at Tech, seeing students make connections to the field is a rewarding experience. Massey, who wants to become a death investigator, said it’s encouraging to see young people taking a more in-depth look at the field.

"We're looking for people that are really interested in forensics," he said. "Doing these activities at a young age can help them be more inclined to look at the real science and not just what's on TV,” he said.

He helped students explore everything from shooting reconstructions and how gangs work to trace evidence and DNA.

"Whatever sparks interest when you're younger is going to carry on into later years. I think getting them hands-on with the real science right now is going to give them a more realistic idea of what forensics is like and help them determine how they can use their interests in that field" he said.

Check out photos on Flickr and story coverage from the Beckley Register-Herald .