NORMAL - The CSIs studied a banana peel, checked an alibi and lined up suspects before they got their man. And the 17 campers aren't even in high school yet.
The fictitious murder scene at Maxwell Park was part of Normal Parks and Recreation's first-year teen adventure camp. The first of three two-week sessions for kids ages 12 to 14 ends today.
Kevin Smith, the department's youth sports and teens supervisor, came up with the crime scene investigators idea.
"I had done similar things before and thought it would be good for the camp," he said.
On Wednesday, Normal Police Department officers Bob Droege and Brian Williams led the campers through a day of studying crime, including a police dog demonstration. The highlight was investigating the "crime."
Williams told the youngsters they'd have to collaborate, just like officers do.
"We're a big team, and we always work together," he said.
So the students examined the crime scene: They checked if the victim (a dummy named Ralph Deadbetter) was dead; preserved the scene by placing yellow police tape and keeping a log of visitors; and divided into teams to collect evidence of a banana peel, toy gun and an ID card.
"Things are going really well," camp counselor Lisa D'Antonio said. "We're able to do things like this because of the small numbers in the camp."
The students interviewed witnesses who had varying accounts of the suspect. Parks and Recreation staff member Tim Kamik played a witness who changed his story.
"Well, maybe I did hear the gunshots," he confessed.
The teams eliminated suspects by showing witnesses a lineup and matching the descriptions given in witness accounts. They interviewed suspect Gavin Watts and found his alibi held up.
"My favorite part was going to all the witnesses and asking them questions," said Alexia Michelon of Normal.
In the end, both teams got it right: the "murderer" was Johnny Akeman, a longtime troublemaker who once had done jail time with Deadbetter.
"We thought it was Johnny," said Carley Catherine of Bloomington. "He fit all the descriptions, and everything's pointing to him."
Activities based on TV shows
Some camp activities are named after popular television shows, such as Crime Scene Investigation ("CSI"); a food cookout a la "Survivor"; and the Amazing (Bloomington-Normal) Race, where campers collected clues from various places across the Twin Cities. Campers also have done a challenge course at Rock Springs in Decatur and gone horseback riding at Moraine View State Park.
Smith spent the last year planning the activities. "The kids have fun, and they're engaged," he said.
Matthew Strange of Bloomington liked the camp more than ones he'd been to before. "We got to do more stuff and go more places," he said.