When a person was found dead in a hotel room recently, six students in Haywood Community College's criminal justice association were put on the case.
They studied fiber samples, scoured for finger prints and analyzed what was amiss in the belongings strewn about the room. Luckily, the individual was a mannequin, and the students were merely showing off their CSI skills at a regional competition.
The six HCC students are all members of Lambda Alpha Epsilon, the student chapter of the American Criminal Justice Association. And, all are competing this week in the organization's national tournament in Cincinnati, which includes crime scene investigation, criminal law, corrections, juvenile justice and organizational theory and administration. This is the college's first year as members of the criminal justice fraternity.
"I am really proud of how small we are and how many people we're sending," said Amy Thompson, an HCC student and member of Lambda Alpha Epsilon.
All the tests are written, with the exception of the crime scene investigation where students must gather evidence, treating each scene as if a crime had occurred and write a report of their conclusions.
During a Southeast regional competition this past October, the team participated in similar tests on a smaller scale. That time, the crime scene the students processed, replete with a "dead" mannequin, was not a case of foul play but instead turned out to be an accidental death.
"That was really tricky for them," said Cassie Walls, the team's advisor and a criminal justice instructor at HCC. "We have to approach it as if crime did occur."
In October, the team took home the first place trophy in crime scene investigating and criminal justice as well as second place and third place accolades.
"I've found that my students — even if they don't study — they have a good understanding (of the material)," Walls said .
Both Walls and Thompson hope to bring home a trophy or two or three from the national competition. And, if anyone can help do it, it's Thompson who loves the tediousness of such tests and competes in each of the academic categories.
Thompson's ambition is a bit intimidating; the 21-year-old works 40 hours a week and is a double major. The pre-med and opera student wants to become a forensic pathologist and work as a coroner for the FBI or CIA.
"I like solving the mystery, but I don't like being an investigator," Thompson said.