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Crime Scenes and Summer Camp

MIAMI — Young sleuths in-training thrust themselves this summer into the roles of forensic investigators, hot on the trail of a mysterious killer.

Initial evidence pointed to a burglary suspect linked to the break-in of a 22-year-old college beauty contestant's family home.

Forensic clues gave them another story.

The middle and high school students attending Basic Forensic Science Camp, an LSU Continuing Education program, changed their minds after hitting the science lab at University Laboratory School.

There they analyzed a body of evidence including hair, clothing fibers, blood and fingerprints. Their findings pointed them to an envious and jealous close friend of the murder victim who often competed with the woman in beauty pageants.

Sound like a one-hour episode of "CSI: Miami" – the popular crime drama about a team of Miami-Dade police department forensic scientists and their work investigating mysterious deaths?

Students thought so too until they realized that it takes hours and days and sometimes years of tedious lab experiments and detective work to get to the bottom of a crime through forensic science.

Even so the camp helped students condense the process into a 32-hour course, which wrapped up last week, said Marty Loupe, lead instructor.

Students pored over fake blood and hair samples, measured crime scenes, fingerprinted and analyzed data using microscopes and magnifying glasses.

They learned the characteristics of a fingerprint and used that knowledge in their investigations. Fingerprints can contain such shapes as an arch, island, swirl, rod or ellipse.

Students also used forensic facial reconstruction kits to help them identify what a person may have looked like.

"Forensics is a lot more complicated than television shows portray it to be," said Katie Serio, 13.

Tori Bessonet, 13, agreed. "TV shows make forensics seem glamorous and easy. They'll put blood in a machine and it pops out and they say, 'it's done..'"

Tayllor Smith, 12, is convinced that forensics isn't simple. "It's like school work. You have to do a lot of math and a lot of thinking."

Katie and Tayllor tested fake blood samples to help them narrow down the five suspects in the scenario about the death of the 22-year-old college student, Lois. Her mysterious death, set up to appear to be a suicide, was committed by one of five suspects that students had to analyze including the woman's mother, boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, best friend and an intruder who burglarized the woman's family home on the night before her death.

Campers Ke'Gan Taylor, 12, and Madisyn Napoli, 13, narrowed suspects and reached a conclusion following their analysis of one murder suspect's handwriting. They matched handwriting on the suicide note to that of the victim's best friend, Maria.

"Her fingerprints, hair and her handwriting brought us to that conclusion," said Ke'Gan.

Campers also discussed Maria's questionable motives. Maria was interested in Lois' love interest. The women often competing in local and state beauty pageants. Lois was found dead on the morning that she had planned to audition for a movie role in a Hollywood movie.

Maddie Mastainich, 13, said she can't get enough of forensic science.

She watches several shows including "Forensic Files" and "Dr. G: Medical Examiner"

"I love mysteries and forensics," she said.

LSU for youth

Dozens of Continuing Education courses and programs and summer camps are offered at LSU annually for pre-kindergarten through high school students. For information, call (225) 578-3162.

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