Middle-schoolers burst with CSI questions

Camp: MPs from Lewis-McChord supply the answers

Staff writerOctober 27, 2012 

The students’ questions revealed either budding criminal masterminds or a genuine interest in learning the ropes as crime-scene investigators.

It was hard to tell when a classroom full of Steilacoom seventh-graders persistently asked Army police how to disguise their fingerprints.

Could you … maybe, say … burn your fingertips, like in the movies? Or trick a police officer by mimicking someone else’s prints?

The answers were no and no, but the military police from Joint Base Lewis-McChord loved the interest shown by the eager questions just the same.

The soldiers visited middle school students from Steilacoom and Lakewood on Friday for a crime-scene investigation camp sponsored by a partnership that aims to provide extra educational resources to military children.

Steilacoom fits the bill because about 30 percent of students in the south Pierce County school district have active-duty military parents. Those kids have to cope with frequent moves to new states and occasional separations from their parents.

“We want to make sure we provide opportunities for them,” said Tami Johnson, the military student transition consultant for Steilacoom schools. “They need that extra layer of support.”

At the camp, students worked through a day’s worth of clues to track down a fictional kidnapping suspect. They put their hands on police tools such as fingerprint kits and experimented with all the sirens a Lewis-McChord police car can sound.

“I didn’t know there was all this stuff they could do,” said Joseph Daniel, 12, of Pioneer Middle School.

He and classmate Ammon Quackenbush peppered two Lewis-McChord MPs with questions to figure out the capabilities of their crime-scene investigation tools.

Ammon asked what happens after an investigator lifts prints from a crime scene.

They’re sent to a crime lab, Sgt. Charles Homer said.

And if there’s a match, “you’re getting those silver bracelets,” Homer teased.

Other students asked questions about how the tools worked, and about what classes to take in college to become a crime scene investigator.

Staff Sgt. Aaron McClure of Lewis-McChord’s 51st Police Detachment had fun with the interest, gently separating his experience in real crime scenes from what people see on television.

“Hollywood’s just that, a bunch of people sit down and make up stories. It looks cool, but a lot of it is not real,” he told the students.

The camp came together through the Southern Methodist University Caruth Institute for Engineering Education and the nonprofit Military Child Education Coalition. They’re holding classes today for Steilacoom teachers so the local educators can replicate some of the hands-on lessons students enjoyed at the camp.

Lindsey Groark, a program director from the SMU institute, enjoyed watching students’ raise their hands with enthusiastic questions.

“They always blow me away,” she said.

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646

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