Forensics class offers real crime-solving skills

Blood-spattered sheets lay across the tables of two classrooms at Douglas High School on Wednesday. On the floor twisted and soiled clothes. A bullet casing. A discarded business card.

"Right now, we are photographing the scenes and collecting evidence," said 16-year-old junior Kaitlyn Barnett. "We're interviewing witnesses and possible suspects."

Barnett was one of about 15 students of Kimberly Tretton's afternoon forensics class who investigated two mock sexual assault scenes. The blood was fake, but the investigative process the students undertook was real.

"These students are actually doing stuff and seeing stuff that most of us in a 20-year career wouldn't see," said detective Rick Brown with the Nevada Department of Public Safety's Investigation Division.

It's the third year Brown has teamed up with Tretton for the student crime scenes.

"They are getting the exact same instruction in investigation as those in our academies," Brown said.

He said there is a need for young investigators.

"It's good to get them interested when they're young," he said. "Technology in the field is always evolving, and a lot of these kids have a better understanding of technology than some of us."

Tretton, who also teaches biology and life science, said her forensics class has doubled since last year. She now teaches two periods of forensics.

"Interest in the class is blooming," she said. "It's big right now with all the television shows."

Yet although many students are fans of the "CSI" series and other shows, they've learned there are significant differences between crime investigation on television and crime investigation in real life.

"Now I just notice the way they bag things and touch things on those shows," said 17-year-old Rachel Kiehne. "They don't do it right, and they never sketch the crime scenes."

Kiehne, part of Barnett's investigative team, was acting as door person for one crime scene, guarding the classroom as her teammates inside took measurements between pieces of evidence for sketching purposes, and delicately collected hair fibers and fingerprints.

Kiehne and her peers were serious about their duties. No journalists were allowed into the scene until proper clearance was granted by Brown and other detectives.

"I like this a lot," Kiehne said. "It's fulfilling to solve a crime, to solve a problem, and help someone out by resolving the issue."

Both Kiehne and Barnett are considering careers in forensics.

"It's something I've had my eye on for a while," Barnett said. "My mind just works this way. It likes solving puzzles."


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