EUREKA — An overturned chair, a hat, pill containers on a table, empty alcohol bottles under a bed.
A group of 45 students spent several hours Thursday working in a former Eureka College residence hall to determine which of those items, if any, were evidence of a crime.
All are students at the Bloomington Area Career Center with an interest in criminal justice. They represented 16 schools.
Although the students had done similar exercises in collecting evidence, Claire Martens, a Heyworth High School junior from Heyworth, said: “Being in an actual room made it more realistic. … It was more of a dive-in than we've had before.”
For one thing, there were “bodies.”
They weren't actual bodies, of course, but they were rather realistic representations. In some cases, they showed wounds; others simulated stages of decomposition.
Then there was the challenge of the cramped quarters in each room where the students worked in teams.
Doug Fuller, an Olympia High School senior from Atlanta, said one thing he learned was “seeing how the room can get really crowded, you have to make a plan before you go in.”
The rooms depict various types of deaths: natural, accidental, suicide and homicide.
This is the second time William Lally, an associate professor of criminal justice at Eureka College, has had high school students use the “crime scene house” on campus. The students also used the college's “crime lab” to process the evidence they collected.
“One of the main jobs of the college is to give back to the community,” said Lally. “Last year was the first time, and it worked out so well we decided to make it an annual thing.”
He visits the students in Bloomington in the fall, talking about the criminal justice program and law enforcement, then he has them come to Eureka in the spring.
“They're getting a crash course in what it would take to process a crime scene,” said Lally. “They learn the importance of documentation, the importance of chain of custody, the risk of contamination.”
Greg Patton, who teaches criminal justice at Bloomington Area Career Center, said students will be competing in a SkillsUSA tournament in March, demonstrating what they have learned about processing a crime scene.
“Getting this hands-on experience is good for that,” said Patton.
He has the students wear gloves and booties and vests identifying their roles on the team to develop proper habits.
“You can't approach a crime scene without proper equipment,” Patton said. “We try to be as authentic as possible.”
Nathan Fischer, a senior at El Paso-Gridley High School from El Paso, said working in the crime scene house was “a cool introduction into how it actually works.”
Among lessons Olympia junior Dillon Turner of Hopedale said he learned was “not every crime scene has really obvious evidence.”
Audrey Stark, a junior at Clinton High School from Clinton, said her favorite part was seeing “our team worked well together. We got stuff done.”