Local News

Students learn about crime scene investigation

SEBRING - For Lincoln Esmil, a student at Avon Park High School, it was neat Saturday to learn about crime scene investigation, which helps detectives crack a case.

But the bloody, gory aspects of it gave him pause about possibly going into that field.

At least for now, he said, he wants to be a doctor.

Lincoln was one of more than 100 high school students from Highlands, Hardee, Okeechobee, Glades, DeSoto and Hendry counties in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Scholar's program who attended the CSI program at Hill-Gustat Middle School to learn about crime scene investigation and how it incorporates mathematics and science to solve crimes.

"You are our future," said Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton, whose office hosted the event.

She encouraged students who would be interested in entering law enforcement to learn about science and math.

"There is so much science and math in everything we do," she said.

Highlands County investigators talked to students about how law enforcement uses those fields, such as looking at bullet trajectories and analyzing chemicals. But they also didn't shy away from presenting more graphic subjects, such as talking about collecting brain matter or a slide showing a dead body.

Kathy Perez, who collects evidence for the Highlands County Sheriff's Office, said she made sure to not use names of victims because in a rural area the students would be more likely to know one of the victims.

Jon Wilkinson, a crime scene detective, explained to a group of students that they have the tools to collect evidence where ever it's located.

"We can't just not collect evidence because it's in a hard place to get to," he said.

In one case, Wilkinson said, when a person committed suicide by shooting himself or herself in the head, part of the skull cap went up into a tree and investigators had to retrieve it.

During the 30 years that Wilkinson has been an investigator, he told the students, technology advances have helped.

Before they had other storage methods, he said, investigators would have to keep bloody clothes found at the scene in their vehicles. Overtime, the stench from those clothes increased.

"It made life uncomfortable," he said.

Another change is that in the past if someone died on a mattress, investigators transported the entire mattress to the crime lab, Wilkinson said.

Now they can cut out the section of the mattress that contains the evidence, he said.

In another section of the program Sergio Jiminez, a student from Hardee Senior High School, followed the clues and came up with a theory about the death of a man (actually a mannequin-type figure with what appeared to be a splatter of blood near his head and a hammer nearby.)

Jiminez said he believes that if the scene were real, it would have involved someone breaking into a home and hitting the dead person on the head with a hammer.

"It's a great program," he said of STEM.

Perez told the students that she "hates" the television show, "CSI."

"It's an embellishment," she said. CSIs don't obtain DNA identifications in 10 minutes, they don't collect perfect fingerprints and they don't interview witnesses.

She said the actors and actresses on the show don't spend hours sifting through a smelly landfill like their real-life counterparts in Highlands County.

In one case in Highlands County, a woman got pregnant while having an affair, Perez said. When she learned her husband was coming back from Mexico, she killed her baby and put it in the trash.

They didn't find the baby in the landfill, but they found linens with DNA connecting the materials to the mother and the baby, she said.

Perez told the students that such work is not for everyone.

"If you're squeamish, you may want to look into a job inside the lab," she said.

This was the second year Highlands County has hosted the program. The program is funded through a three-year grant from Florida's Race to the Top, which is aimed at enriching science, technology and math education for students in rural districts.

The Heartland Educational Consortium is administering the grant for the multi-county area.


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