CSI Veazie: Students investigate staged robbery to learn about police work

Posted March 21, 2013, at 4:24 p.m.
Last modified March 21, 2013, at 9:20 p.m.

VEAZIE, Maine — Teacher Brian Gonyar and a Veazie police officer interrupted a 7th-grade reading class at Veazie Community School Thursday morning, turning that day’s lesson on its head.

“I’ve got some good news, there’s been a crime committed and you’ve got to solve it,” Gonyar told the class before dividing up duties and sending a group of students to secure the crime scene.

With the help of Veazie police Officer Roger Hershey, some of the 7th-graders cordoned off the girls’ locker room with police tape. Students stood guard, monitoring and taking record of everyone who came or went.

Students on Thursday began a project aimed at teaching the science behind a crime scene investigation and the due process that follows successful detective work.

A sign posted at the locker room door identified the mock crime scene as “VZ INK,” a tattoo parlor. Inside, students found the apparent aftermath of a burglary — a door to the back office kicked in, a shattered mirror, blood droplets on the floor and sink, bloody footprints, and a vacation fund jar emptied of its contents.

The office appeared to have been used as some sort of gambling hub — a table in the back was covered with a deck of cards and gambling chips.

“We’re going to take this all the way from the crime to the court,” Gonyar said. Students gathered and processed at least 15 pieces of evidence at the crime scene on Thursday. They also interviewed the 8th graders — some of whom were at the parlor on the night of the crime and one of whom may have committed the crime.

Eventually, the students will have to determine who to charge with the crime. After that, a student prosecutor and defense attorney will be selected and a mock trial will be held, using the evidence gathered by students. A jury of parents will decide the verdict. The process will continue up until April break, Gonyar said.

The mock crime investigation is a lesson in science, and the trial that follows serves as an engaging demonstration of how the justice system works, Gonyar said.

The lesson Thursday, was one that’s often different from depictions of crime investigations on television and in movies: Be careful. Be meticulous. One slip-up could compromise your case later.

Evidence technicians combed the scene for evidence, carefully photographing, documenting and collecting items, lifting footprints using gel pads, lifting fingerprints and swabbing artificial blood samples. They used many of the same techniques police use in their own investigations. Veazie police provided the crime scene equipment.

That evidence went to teacher Lauree Gott’s science classroom, where another group of students will analyze the evidence. Some will look at the prints, others will process strands of hair and fibers. In the end, that evidence will be used to charge one of the 8th graders.

Other students, acting as detectives and prosecutors, interviewed people who were regulars at the tattoo parlor and gambling ring in an attempt to identify potential suspects.

Students were told to operate at one speed — slow — in order to avoid a mistake or missed piece of evidence that might compromise their case.

“It’s not all gathered and collected and the person convicted in an hour,” Hershey said. “It can be methodical and boring. It’s not like you see on TV.”

Seventh-grader Jack Dalton worked as an evidence technician during the investigation. He said he was “hyped up” to figure out what happened.

“It turned from reading class to investigating a crime scene,” he said.

He said he quickly realized he had to slow down and be cautious to avoid stepping on a piece of evidence or missing something important.

Kaylyn Larkin, another 7th-grade evidence technician, said she missed some evidence in the beginning because they were moving too fast. It’s not like television with “people running about and being dramatic.”

“It’s really fun to see this is how it really is,” Larkin said.