November 24, 2014  

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CSI: Hattiesburg Brings Forensic Science, Anthropology to Area School

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Thames Elementary School students examine the evidence at CSI: Hattiesburg, a mock crime scene. (Submitted photo)

A mock crime scene set up at Thames Elementary School in Hattiesburg gave students a chance to work as detectives on an 80-year-old cold case.

CSI: Hattiesburg was organized by The University of Southern Mississippi Department of Anthropology and Sociology and the Forensic Sciences Program to introduce children to forensic science as they test their critical thinking and problem-solving skills in a fun exercise. The event opened Saturday, Oct. 23 at Thames Elementary School’s Fall Festival.

“Forensic sciences are very popular now due to TV shows such as ‘Bones’ and ‘CSI’,” said Dr. Marie Danforth, project coordinator and professor of anthropology. This event offered student groups from schools, churches and local organizations the opportunity to learn about solving crimes in a fun, enjoyable setting. We modeled our CSI after ones that had been held in a number of other cities.”

 CSI: Hattiesburg was held as part of The Big Read project, sponsored by the Southern Miss College of Arts and Letters and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The Big Read is an initiative of the NEA in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest.

The child detectives used techniques similar to those seen on popular TV shows, Danforth said. “We still tried to make it a little different by staging a murder that took place long ago. It gave us lots of latitude with the storyline.”

Thames students started solving the crime by drawing a map of any clues they could find. The case involved three people who went missing in Hattiesburg in the early 1930s. As students entered the mock crime scene, they were greeted by skeletal remains that had reportedly been found by workers renovating the building.

Bones were scattered amid the potential clues, which included bullet holes and a pair of glasses. After collecting the clues, such as footprints, fingerprints and even animal skeletal remains, the detectives determined the sex, age and stature of the victim.

“They were learning math when they calculated the statute from the thigh bone,” said Lynn Funkhouser, an anthropology graduate student from Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Once all the clues were collected, the detectives compared their findings to the characteristics of the missing people to determine which one was most likely the victim. Later, they visited eight stations with different types of analysis.

CSI: Hattiesburg is a traveling mock crime scene that can be set up at local elementary schools and libraries. Contact Danforth at 601.266.5629 or m.danforth@usm.edu for information on how to host CSI: Hattiesburg.