May 27, 2022

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Education The Solution

UNL forensic science students will get hands-on experiences in new crime scene house | State and Regional News

Just south of Leighton Avenue, near the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s East Campus, sits a secluded white house.

It’s been there for nearly a century and hasn’t been occupied for years. It’s difficult to spot from the road, but recently neighbors may have noticed more activity on the property.

A new chain-link fence put up around the perimeter. Workers hammering away. And last week, movers hauling in furniture.

Those recent renovations have transformed the once-dilapidated home into a new laboratory for students in UNL’s forensic science program.

After years of being crammed into a storage room, those students will now have a bigger space to get hands-on experience with mock crime scene investigations.

It’s a facility that program director Michael Adamowicz had asked for since his arrival at UNL in 2016.

“Having a crime scene house is a really powerful asset for any forensic science program because it creates a learning laboratory,” he said. “That is something you can’t get in a normal university building. It’s a space that you can’t really replicate in a classroom.”

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The house, which at one point was scheduled for demolition, had fallen into disrepair and needed to be stripped to the studs.

Renovations began in 2018, but COVID-19 halted the project.

Even when renovations resumed last fall, the project faced skyrocketing prices of building materials.

During the time the house was unoccupied, several squatters and animals had come and gone, leaving drug paraphernalia, knee-high amounts of garbage and bodily fluids.

“At one point they pulled a piece of drywall off … and the entire space between two studs was up to about 3 feet high filled with dead roaches. So they pulled it off and all these dead roaches came spilling,” Adamowicz said.

The storage room in Filley Hall that previously served as the classroom for mock crime scenes could only hold two to three students at a time. So the house, which is about 1,100 square feet, is more suitable.

“In the house we are able to do much more than just teach students how to analyze a crime scene,” UNL lecturer Chuck Murrieta said. “We’re able to teach them how to control a scene and gather quality data safely.”

Faculty members — from firearms experts to forensic chemists — will set up evidence throughout the house and property.

Although students will spend most of their time finding weapons and bodily fluids inside the house, evidence can also be found outside the house.

The university has placed a junked car filled with bullet holes on the property for use during the mock investigations.

Fingerprints, footprints and tire tracks are spread out throughout the property for students to collect and later examine in a lab.

Murrieta, who was previously with Environmental Health and Safety at UNL, says he plans to use his skills in biosafety to teach students the fundamentals of lab safety.

“With this house we also get to focus on teaching students how to safely transport unknown materials to a lab, making sure no evidence or students get contaminated.”

This summer, the university plans to add more furniture — from garage sales and donations — to the house in order to create more realistic crime scenes.

The program is also looking to partner with University Police and the Lincoln Police Department, which might use the facility for their own training purposes.

Reed Knutson, a senior forensic science major, says the house gives them more room for real-life situations.

“You have to carefully look through and examine what you think is evidence,” he said, as well as “what needs to be carefully avoided.”