Although the murder of a prisoner and kidnapping of a detective were fiction, the forensic science and investigative techniques deployed to solve these mysteries are real—even if the investigators were teenagers.
Thirty-one teams of high school students from across Long Island, upstate and New York City competed Monday at Stony Brook University in the annual Forensics World CSI Challenge, in which each were assigned to identical crime scenes adorned with yellow tape, blood splatter, cards that numbered the events in order, beach supplies and the infamous blow-up doll victim.
“Everything that I’ve learned from inside the classroom helped me perform well today,” said Kristin, a member of team 31, whose junior detectives were but a fraction of those who turned out for the 13th annual event. “I think competition is really fun, and challenging.”
The student crime-scene investigators competed to solve the murder of a prisoner named Wildcat Willie who had escaped and then been gunned down by an unidentified shooter as well as the kidnapping of Det. C. Gar Butz, who reported to the scene at Tiki Beach in Mt. Sinai to capture the fugitive.
The teens used fingerprints, ballistics and other forensic tests. After hours of research and shoe leather, students appealed to the judges, who evaluated each team’s performance.
“It teaches them analytical skills; it teaches them how to be very good at observing, not making insinuations,” said Rosemary Peraza, a teacher at West Babylon High School and coach of Team 2. “They definitely don’t jump to conclusions.”
The fictional murder scenes were both rigorous and tedious with each team spending their entire year in a club that met at least once a week that prepared them for the contest.
“These kids work their butts off to be in this,” she said. “I think they like being under pressure. They get prepared. They think of different scenarios and they say, ‘you know what, we’re ready.’”
Aside from testing their forensic science knowledge and investigative skills, the students also practiced their team work during the contest, which Oceanside High School student’s won, followed by Brooklyn Technical High School and Long Beach High School.
“We just wish that there was more than one of these a year,” said Jeffery, a Long Island high school student. “We all work so hard, but we’re lucky for this opportunity…We like coming in here and being caught off guard. It’s what we work so hard for.”