Crime-solving class is elementary, my dear

A pair of crimes were committed at Mountain Meadow Elementary School Dec. 15.

Students were told the Pierce County deputies interviewed suspects, took witness statements and cordoned off the crime scenes, but were too busy to complete the investigation and asked for help from the Mountain Meadow Crime Scene Investigating team.

Armed with the critical-thinking skills they’ve been learning, the 25 second- to fifth-grade detectives jumped into action.

The mock event was staged by Mountain Meadow parent and Bonney Lake Police Officer Terry Carter, who has been working with the highly-capable students and teachers Tam Jewell and Gina Shindle weekly since October.

This was Carter’s first time working with students. Usually he presents a similar program at the Citizen’s Academy, but with the help of guest speakers from the Bonney Lake Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice, students learned about reading tracks, latent printing, personality profiling, crime scene handling and evidence gathering.

“We’ve had a blast doing this,” Jewell said. “Today, they’re really putting their critical thinking skills to use.”

Jewell’s classroom has been broken into and her laptop stolen. Students discovered broken glass and found small, muddy footprints, a make-up bag on the floor and a bloody tissue in the garbage. Later, they discovered a first aid kit was missing.

In their enthusiasm, they had to be reminded to preserve the crime scene and to use all their senses to gather information.

Every new discovery brought a peal of excited chatter and a rush to figure out how it might fit.

Christopher Farrer said a footprint can tell a detective a lot – the size, shape and imprint.

“We learned a lot about fingerprints,” he said. “Nobody has the same fingerprint. A fingerprint really narrows it down a lot.”

Outside, the school shed had been broken into and the janitor reported a tool box and Christmas items missing.

Students found bolt cutters, a greasy glove, an oily handprint and a broken padlock at the scene.

“You have to have a lot of clues,” Jack Farrer said. “All the clues are important to complete the puzzle.”

In the end, the students combined the clues with the police statements and interviews and decided Ashley Cargill, a high school student from Auburn, committed the first crime and tractor repair mechanic Harold Knuckles and mechanic-in-training Alex Fernandez worked together on the second theft.

Carter wanted to make sure students were confident in their decisions and the evidence was supportive.

“No guessing. No jumping to conclusions. We don’t do it just to make an arrest. We do it to find the truth,” Carter said, also explaining it takes many years of training to be a real detective, not a few weeks.

“I think keeping the community safe would be a very good job,” Cody Young said.

“These are our future crime fighters,” Shindle said. “Our future engineers. Our future thinkers.”

Jewell said the best part of the project was the collaboration with parents and the networking with the police department.

“It was great to have great people working together to do what’s best for kids,” Jewell said.

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