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Marquette Academy students take on CSI

Marquette Academy's middle school turned into a full-fledged crime scene this week, and eighth-grade science students were charged with solving the case.

This is the second year the academy's high school and middle school have collaborated in the crime scene investigation project with Kathryn Ewers, high school biology teacher, heading the program and Jeff Newbury, middle school science teacher, assisting. Ottawa Police Department officials were on hand to teach about crime scenes and collecting evidence.

"Mrs. Ewers and her students set up the crime scene, and it will be new to the kids," Newbury said. "As they come in (Thursday), they'll start seeing evidence like drops of blood around. The whole idea is that they need to be observant from the beginning."

This year's "crime" was that someone broke into the school library and stole a book on the upcoming to-read list, "Maniac Magee."

"We've got some footage from security cameras," Ewers told the students Thursday morning. "Ms. Bartolucci (the librarian) is pretty upset that books are missing. There are a couple of suspects to see in the footage. When you're watching this, keep in mind some of the things you see here. Use your observations. What are some of the things you'll be looking for? People, places, things, suspicious activities, features."

Students worked in groups of three or four and were charged with making their first crime scene visit — but not without a search warrant, which they would obtain from Newbury, who was acting as district attorney.

Police officials reminded them they would do a scene walkthrough, take pictures, document those pictures, collect evidence and document where the evidence came from.

As students did their walkthrough in the area police taped off, they discovered books missing, a broken dish, blood on the ground, footprints, a coffee mug and a spill, and a glove.

Ottawa Police Sgt. Mike Cheatham, a detective, pointed out the evidence to the students and noted the door was not forcibly entered, narrowing the pool of suspects to those with a key.

"It's interesting for the kids to learn about what we do. And also fun to get in front of the kids at an impressionable age," Cheatham said. "The kids have great questions. It's really an interactive way to learn. This is really hands on. They get fingerprint kits, swabs. Instead of us doing the job, they're doing the job, which is good public service. They catch on quickly. It helps when you're interested. They're intrigued. They see this stuff on TV, now it's right in front of them. They ask a lot of questions. Everything we talked about yesterday, we're putting into action (Thursday)."

The first to inspect the crime scene were Cheyanne Tipsord, Jadyn Heckler and Joey Siena. The girls looked curiously at the evidence as they began to form theories.

"We asked Ms. Bartolucci, the first on the crime scene, what time it happened. Who would want these books?" Tipsord said. "We're just trying to get a couple leads. She said Miss Sullivan was here and she likes books. She said she didn't know if any downstairs teachers were up here. We'll go to Miss Sullivan ... and see if they saw anyone else. Maybe they saw someone."

The girls planned to run fingerprints and collect footprint evidence, as well as investigate the broken glass.

"My theory is that Ms. Bartolucci might have stepped in the blood on the way in," Tipsord said.

After interrogations with a number of teachers playing roles in the mock scene, students were thrown off on who stole the book.
Students collected and analyzed evidence Friday with the assistance of Ewers' high school biology students.
"After they analyzed the evidence scientifically, they limited it down to two suspects, then they solved the crime," Ewers said.
Students analyzed blood samples, but found they weren't going to be able to solve the crime using simply blood types. They also analyzed DNA samples.
After finding a hair at the mock scene, they were able to get clues about the culprit after putting it under a microscope and comparing it to suspect samples.
Finally, fingerprints from the scene narrowed the mystery to just one individual: junior high teacher Lainey Parrott.
"Using the scientific methods really made a difference," Ewers said. 
The biology teacher said the project has been made possible by money raised in Marquette Academy's capital campaign. She said there's talk already of involving more departments and expanding next year's lesson.
"This has been one of the greatest weeks I've had as an educator. It's been a lot of work, but the students learned so much."

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