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The real CSI

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By John Barnhart

The students who returned to Bedford County's schools recently had a variety of summer experiences.

For one group of middle schoolers and high school students, the summer included a week of crime scene investigation.

The day camp was held at Central Virginia Community College's Bedford facility. Bedford County Commonwealth's Attorney Randy Krantz said that each day covered one of the forensic sciences, and the general science behind it.

One day they looked at blood spatters, made measurements and used math to determine where the shooter or stabber was. Another day's topic was toxicology and undercover drug investigators from the Bedford County Sheriff's Office made a presentation.

The goal is to encourage students' interest in math and science by letting them see some of the ways those studies are used in the real world. This is the second year that the Commonwealth's Attorney's office has sponsored the camp and presentations are given by Krantz's staff and local law enforcement.

Other topics included taking fingerprints, behavioral science and learning about self defense, how and when police officers use force, and how to use what they learned to defuse a tense situation. Also, a canine cop paid the camp a visit.

"They especially liked that drug-sniffing dog," Krantz said.

They were also fascinated by Sheriff's Office Investigator Rick Baldwin's presentation. Baldwin, who attended the National Forensic Academy's 10-week Crime Scene Investigation course in 2006, taught about the chemistry of decomposition. Krantz noted that they were really interested in the "corpse farm."

The "corpse farm" was part of the course Baldwin took and it consisted of a number of genuine rotting corpses. This was a hands-on experience for Baldwin.

"These kids are really interested, they are really bright, they ask good questions," Krantz commented.

An unplanned event demonstrated how bright they are. Undercover drug investigators had their presentation on a laptop computer but, it was not displaying correctly on a large screen at the front of the class. They puzzled over the problem for a few minutes until Kaitlin Edmonston, who started seventh grade at Staunton River Middle School last week, came to their rescue, quickly discovering what was wrong. Edmonston wants to be a police officer.

Krantz said that a number of the youth who come to the camp are thinking of careers in law enforcement, crime scene investigation or crime lab work.

Jessica Cofflin, who started 10th grade at Jefferson Forest High School this fall, is thinking of a career in crime scene investigation. She got interested in the camp because her cousin is always talking about cases she's seen on the TV show, CSI.

"My cousin actually was obsessed with the TV show," she said.

The show also got others, who have other career plans, interested in the camp. Jeffery Seals is thinking about becoming a gemologist, a diamond cutter. He notes that math will be important in that line of work because a diamond cutter must measure angles precisely or the cut will be wrong.

He's serious. Seals has already talked to Jim Messier about what's involved. Messier owns Arthur's Jewelry.