Etowah High students probe mock crime
By Donna Thornton / Times Staff Writer
Posted Oct 28, 2017 at 9:44 PM
Updated Oct 28, 2017 at 9:44 PM
Attalla police and the amateur investigators of Shelley Montgomery’s forensic science class at Etowah High School combed two separate scenes for evidence to uncover what caused the death of a 40-year-old victim in a staged crime last week.
Students in Montgomery’s class have worked this year to apply all the science they’ve learned in various classes to forensics, and after a few days of classwork work with Attalla police, they put it all to practice Wednesday and Thursday.
The case they were investigating started as a missing person investigation, with students free to interview anyone at the school who might have known the mock victim: a 40-year-old veteran, injured in combat, who worked odd jobs and subbed at the school.
Montgomery and Attalla police staged the crime scene at the end of the Etowah High School band practice field. There was an abandoned vehicle there and down a path into the woods there was a body, found in a seated position against a tree.
The students divided into teams to look at the two scenes and try to determine what happened to the victim.
“We’re trying to give the students some real world experience in a career path that some have expressed an interest in,” Montgomery said.
Attalla police have been invaluable partners for the class, she said.
“They’ve really acted as mentors for the students,” Montgomery said.
For the police, there are benefits to interacting with students.
Chief Investigator Doug Jordan said it’s always good to interact with students in a positive setting and in a mentoring role.
As for the mock exercise, the students found an abandoned vehicle at the practice field. There was a bullet hole in the passenger door. Under Jordan’s guidance, students used wooden dowels to determine the path of the bullet through the door and the car seats inside.
In the trunk, they found something perhaps more ominous: a baseball bat with blood and hair near its business end.
The body was found down a path into the woods, and students had to search the wooded setting for evidence. They found blood spattered on leaves and foliage and initially were stumped as to its source.
Examining the body, which was sitting against a tree with an empty prescription bottle in the man’s lap and a piece of paper clutched in one hand, students found a laceration at the back of the man’s head.
Throughout the exercise, officers reminded students of what they should and should not do. Student Resource Officer Kevin Carter cautioned that they shouldn’t let everyone walk through the crime scene before examining it thoroughly.
Investigator Khris Yancey talked about how the scene should be photographed — with pictures depicting the scene from all sides.
Investigator Gerald Willamson reminded the students to record evidence found because eventually their “case” might lead to a trial.
Jordan said the students were doing pretty well, paying attention to the small details that could make a great difference in an investigation.
Montgomery said that was one of the things she enjoys about the class.
“I love watching the way they think,” she said, as they sorted through the evidence.
Her favorite thing, she said, is the partnership with the police.
“I think the police like seeing the kids in a different light,” Montgomery said.
Student investigators were instructed to note all the evidence they find that they want to collect and to document what tests should be performed on the evidence to look for fingerprints, DNA, etc.
And like real investigators, they have to wait for the test results to proceed. The lab in this case is in Montgomery, and results will be back on Monday.
For the two classes, Montgomery said there were different scenarios, with students left to determine how their mock victim met his end.