By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Some McDowell County students spent their Thursday afternoon doing what many people do when summer arrives — eat pizza, fish, swim, process a crime scene and search for a missing person.
Berwind Lake’s camping ground was a classroom for the law and public safety class offered at the Riverview Careers and Technology Center. Instructor George Kennedy, a retired West Virginia State Police trooper, said the program was one of several in the state.
Class started out with a picnic lunch near the park’s pool. Sixteen-year-old John Chafin of Iaegar was eager to get started.
“I love stuff like this, military police work and police work,” he said, adding he hoped to make a career of law enforcement. “I think we’re going to be doing a crime scene investigation and looking for a missing person.”
His classmate Aimee Mutter, 16, of the Bradshaw area had thought about taking nursing classes, but she became interested in becoming a medical examiner or a forensic scientist; a criminal justice degree is needed for either profession.
Chafin was especially interested in the missing person exercise. “I like a good challenge,” he said.
“I wish we could get ROTC down here,” Chafin stated. “This is the closest thing you can get to it.”
Kennedy and the students then drove to a campground near the lake. Trees surrounded the site, and steep slopes led eyes up and into the forest. Tosha Mutter, Aimee’s mother, said wildlife including bears are often spotted in the woods, plus there have been reports of mountain lions and even the legendary Bigfoot. Soon the students were unpacking crime scene tape, evidence bags and latex gloves.
“You have so much of this fake blood,” Aimee remarked as the supplies were unpacked.
Kennedy sent the students to the lake while he prepared the scene with some volunteers. When they were gone, he described the upcoming scenario. Two drunken friends were going to get into a fight. One would cut the other with a knife, only to be shot as he walked away. In many cases, people don’t realize they’ve been shot, Kennedy said. After being shot, the victim would go to his tent, lie down on his stomach, and expire.
The murderer, still bleeding from his knife wound, would dispose of the gun while leaving a trail of his own blood. Students would have to locate the gun — in this case an Airsoft pistol used for training police — collect evidence, and interview witnesses.
“We’re going to play ‘Where’s Waldo?’ with a gun?” said the “murderer,” 20-year-old volunteer Drake Whistlehunt, “We could be here all night!”
“That’s when you interview your witnesses,” Kennedy said. He then prepared the “victim,” 14-year-old Lane Mutter.
Kennedy painted a single spot of stage blood on his back to serve as an entrance wound. The vampire blood sold during Halloween works well, he said. Then Lane raised his shirt so Kennedy could apply a larger exit wound.
“You’re so fired up, you don’t even realize you’ve been shot,” Kennedy told Lane.
Whistlehunt received a fake gash mark. His next task was to leave some tracks above the campsite. Kennedy planned to leave a shell casing near the tent and another on the sloop above the tent.
The rest was up to the students. Collecting blood evidence and gunshot residue, interviewing witnesses and securing the crime scene were only a few items on the lesson plan.
Offering the law and public safety class gives students more career opportunities, Kennedy said. The best paying jobs in McDowell County are now at the federal prison near Welch. Experience with criminal justice can lead to careers in law enforcement and related fields. Some of these jobs could be close to the students’ homes.
“Right now, the state police has no troopers from McDowell County serving in McDowell County,” he said.