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May 1, 2014

Local teens learn about insects' effect on crime scenes

Advanced criminal justice class offers career exploration

A group of detectives huddled over a mass of decomposing flesh in an area cordoned off by yellow tape in the Berry Patch behind Logansport High School.

One held a magnifying glass and another was equipped with a flashlight to aid in the search for tiny insect eggs. Another investigator snapped photos while his colleague wrote observations down on a clipboard.

As the afternoon spring sun beat down on the scene, a scent filled the air that was slightly reminiscent of pork overpowered by the stench of decay.

The decomposing flesh was a hog’s head serving as a learning tool for the criminal justice students of the Century Career Center. The teenagers are making their way through a unit on forensic entomology, or how the growth and development of insects on a corpse can help an investigator determine an estimated range of time of death. Students enrolled in the program say it provides a hands-on and realistic introduction to careers whose appeal they first realized through film and television as they prepare to pursue post-secondary education.

Students called out observations to their teacher, David Jordan, as they hunted for eggs and photographed the scene. Some remarked on the increased appearance of shredded flesh, which Jordan suggested could be from crows. Other students discovered insect eggs in the hog’s eye and commented on the appearance of further bone exposure.

Jordan explained his students were looking for signs of the blowfly and its impacts on the carcass in order to estimate a time of death.

By tracking the growth of the eggs and the larvae, “you can work backward to determine the postmortem interval,” he said.

After returning to the classroom, one of Jordan’s students recorded temperatures from the last 24 hours into her computer. Jordan said this will affect the development rate of the eggs as well as the larvae after they hatch. After the eggs hatch and the larvae develop on the carcass, the students will collect samples from each development stage to observe under a microscope, all the while determining variables to plug into a formula that will reveal to them approximately how long the flesh had been exposed to the elements.

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