They came to MTSU from high schools in four different states to learn more about forensic science in a hands-on environment.
Within the first hour of the eighth annual CSI: MTSU summer camp, the 36 young participants found themselves in the shoes of the professionals at an alarming crime scene: A teenager was missing from her family's home, where even a casual observer could see foul play, in a scenario straight from the headlines.
The campers studied blood, fingerprint, hair, fiber and ballistics samples in a laboratory; obtained witness statements from investigators; hashed out ideas with their colleagues in a conference room; and presented their conclusions to a trio of "judges," as well as a roomful of parents, friends and supporters on the final day -- all in hopes of resolving a crime and finding justice.
"We had two dead ends on this that they had to figure out," said Dr. Hugh Berryman, director of MTSU's Forensic Institute for Research and Education, explaining how the groups narrowed down their kidnapping suspects with phone calls, emails, purchase receipts and more.
"The first group to 'save' our victim, 'Cindy Parker' ... figured out where she was in less than two hours on the first day," Berryman said, "and that was excellent work. It scared me. I tried not to show it, but I was thinking, 'oh NO, this whole camp's gonna come apart two hours into the first day; they've already figured it all out.'"
The campers accomplished their discoveries with the help of MTSU forensic anthropology students who coordinated group activities, answered questions and taught integral facets of the camp, such as laboratory evidence analysis.
On the final day, Berryman singled out MTSU students who played a significant role in this year's CSI camp: Cori Crenshaw, Matt Davis, Cody Evans, Erin Floyd, Blakely Hunze, Amber Lancaster, Jeffrey LaPorte, Daniel Locke, Justin Lowe, Sophie Plant-Moran, Lauren Smith and Charlotte Whitaker.
They're also members of the university's Forensic Anthropology Search and Recovery, or FASR, Team, which helps law enforcement agencies and medical examiners cross Tennessee recover and document skeletal remains at crime scenes.
The undergraduate and graduate students are tops in their field with experience in human osteology, forensic anthropology and archaeological field work. Many of the student anthropologists got their start the same way the young visitors did: at a CSI:MTSU camp.
"I don't think you'll find another university that has undergrad and grad students who work actual crime scenes with a professor like me," said Berryman, a longtime professor in MTSU's Department of Sociology and Anthropology and a nationally recognized forensic anthropologist.
"Many times me and my crews are on the inside of the yellow tape and the authorities are on the other. It's very serious. Any student who goes on these crime scenes with me are subject to subpoena and to testify in court. It's the real deal, and I'm really proud of these students."
You can watch a brief video about this year's CSI:MTSU Camp at http://youtu.be/iyhoJRC7qWc.
Along with CSI:MTSU camps, the Forensic Institute for Research and Education, established in 2006, offers free public lectures featuring renowned forensic-science experts each semester. FIRE also provides regular educational and training opportunities for law enforcement, medical examiners, coroners, attorneys, social workers and other groups in forensic science and homeland security.
To learn more about other FIRE programs and events, contact the FIRE offices at 615-494-7713 at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.mtsu.edu/fire. You can get more details about the CSI:MTSU camps at http://www.csimtsu.com.