BREWER, Maine — There was blood on the door, a broken window and evidence all over the floor, and a group of young crime solvers had to scrutinize the mock crime scene and determine what happened.
Fingerprints were gathered from discarded soda cans found at the fake crime scene, and blood samples — consisting of Catalina salad dressing — were collected before the investigating students determined a burglary had occurred and money was taken.
“It’s awesome,” said 13-year-old Mike Perry of Brewer. “It’s really fun.”
The 20 middle school students enrolled in the city’s first ever Brewer Youth Academy wore blue T-shirts Wednesday bearing the words “First Responders … in training.”
The youngsters, who were broken into two groups of 10, are learning the ins and outs of public service, Brewer Police Chief Perry Antone told city councilors Tuesday night.
One group spent last week with the Fire Department and this week is working with the Police Department, and the other group started with the Police Department and is working with fire personnel this week.
“It’s been an unbelievable program,” Antone said. “It’s nice to have the young folks around the building. They have been subject to the history of law enforcement, and the history of firefighting.”
The students also have visited the Air National Guard Fire Department, toured the Penobscot County Jail and sat through court at the Penobscot Judicial Center during the two-week camp. They have seen a LifeFlight helicopter in action and a drug-sniffing canine demonstration, been through a smoke-filled training facility, learned a little self-defense and peered inside the Penobscot County Emergency Response Team’s command vehicle.
All but two of the 20 — one from Hampden and the other from Millinocket — are from Brewer.
The students are taught with a combination of “classroom and hands-on” instruction, said Stephen Boyd, the middle school resource officer for Brewer and organizer of the youth academy.
The Brewer Youth Academy shows them “how we do our jobs,” but also it’s “to get the youth in our community more involved in their community — to build community leaders,” he said.
Drug forfeiture funds are being used to pay for the relatively low cost of the academy, with the Fire Department’s union pitching in for a day of play at a Trenton water slide park and a graduation barbecue that is scheduled for noon Friday.
“It hasn’t cost the kids, their parents or the taxpayers anything,” Boyd said.
City Manager Steve Bost said any time kids are learning and participating in their community, it is a good thing.
“I was pretty impressed,” he said. “By all accounts the kids have really benefited from it.”
Perry and fellow Brewer residents Alec Reardon, 11, and Nick Charalambous, 12, worked together Wednesday to determine what had happened in the mock crime scene. After dusting for fingerprints, the young detectives spent a few minutes listing the many educational activities they have participated in.
“The first day was traffic stops and a seat belt challenge,” said Charalambous. “The second day was jail and court.”
“Jail was scary,” said Reardon, adding that the inmates were all looking at the students.
Early Wednesday, the students learned about gun safety and then prepared to be detectives. Today, they will learn self-defense and spend the night at the Brewer Auditorium, where they will be treated to a movie and have access to the city’s pool.
While working with the Fire Department last week, the group “got to use the fire hose and went to the junkyard to see the Jaws of Life,” Perry said.
They learned the basics of CPR, met with the Dirigo Search and Rescue team, and practiced getting into firefighting turnout gear.
“We got to race to see who could get in the fire gear the fastest,” Reardon said. “If there was one mistake, you could die. It’s small things” that matter — such as properly buckling a helmet and folding over the jacket’s flap.
For the three youth detectives, the camp has given them a chance to really see what it takes to be a public servant.
“I want to be a motorcycle police officer,” said Reardon. “I ride my dirt bike everywhere.”
For Charalambous and Perry, who haven’t quite figured out what they want to be when they grow up, the program allowed them to “see what they do — firefighters and police,” Charalambous said.
“I think it would be fun” to do either job, Perry said.
The Brewer Youth Academy has been so successful that plans already are in the works to host another one next summer, Boyd said.
“It’s not just summer camp — they’re learning,” he said.