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April 26, 2022

Thurston Middle School Forensics Class Participates in Mock Crime Scene Investigation

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. - Forensics isn’t your typical class in middle school, but thanks to mother-daughter duo, Michelle and Noelle Martinez, what started out as an after-school club nine years ago at Thurston Middle School (TMS) has also become an extremely popular and sought after 7th grade elective rotation for the last five years. The forensics class and club objective is to reinforce and introduce students to the skills and knowledge required to understand forensic criminal investigation while allowing them to interact together with the content on multiple levels and formats, provide in-depth inquiry, and make connections for college, career, and civic life.

Michelle Martinez is Thurston’s social studies and forensics teacher who co-teaches the class with her daughter, Noelle, an LBUSD former graduate and student teacher who came up with the idea for a forensics club nine years ago. Noelle’s background in forensics comes from a B.S. in Anthropology with a minor in Forensics from Baylor University, a Postgraduate Certificate in Forensic Anthropology from the University of Dundee in Scotland, and an M.S. in Criminal Investigation from the University of New Haven. While student teaching at Thurston, Noelle is currently obtaining an M.A. in Education with a Secondary Science Credential.

In the spring, the end-of-the-year historical mock crime scene investigation takes place, which allows students from both the forensics club and class (grades 6-8) to engage in teamwork and collaboration to investigate the crime scene, identify fingerprints, analyze blood patterns, and process artifacts to uncover the crime based on a historical lesson they have learned. Each student is given a role on the team to investigate the scene, which includes the lead detective, photographer, evidence collectors, sketch artist, note-taker, first responders, medical examiner, and forensic anthropologist. This year’s mock crime scene was the second part of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, focusing on the death of John Wilkes Booth at Garrett’s Farm. Students were split into teams to unveil two different crime scenes; one involving a man who was shot and killed with evidence of Lincoln’s assassination, while the other included evidence of a burnt body found at Garrett’s burnt barn. In the end, the students investigated the scenes carefully and based on evidence provided by the medical examiner and forensic anthropologist, they discovered the burnt body was indeed, John Wilkes Booth.

“Working as a lead detective on the John Wilkes Booth crime case was really exciting and fun,” exclaimed 8th grade student, Ella Villoria. “I was able to apply what I learned in forensics to help solve the crime scene with my team. It was a great experience.”

“Working as a mother-daughter duo for the last nine years has been an amazing journey and blessing,” stated Michelle Martinez. “To see my daughter’s passion excite other students in the field of forensics has truly been a remarkable experience. It’s incredible to see the passion grow in the students as they learn both historical events and how to apply science to solve crimes.”

For the past five years, TMS forensics has coordinated with the Laguna Beach Police Department to help collaborate with students during the mock crime scene investigations to enrich the students’ experiences. This year added an extra layer to the realistic day with a new collaboration with the Laguna Beach Fire Department and their Arson Investigator who helped bring the scene to life and provide incredible insight to the students as they led their investigation.

Noelle Martinez reflected on the mock crime scene, “Working with this year’s group of students to solve the mock crime scene illustrated the great resilience of the students to collaborate together after Covid. Teaching the students in forensic class, club, and through my student teaching has shown me a community of enthusiastic and passionate students. It was a joy to see how the students worked to process the crime scene and apply my teachings in forensics to their different scenarios, despite working different scenes, to come together to solve the death of John Wilkes Booth.”

Cami Thomas, 7th grade student, enjoyed the mock scene, “This was a great experience for everyone. I’m glad that I was able to be a lead detective and lead my team to solve the crime on Garrett’s porch. I have never experienced anything else like this.”

“I loved it! It was a great experience and I had a great time. I loved that it was also great how we learned many new things in the class and at the scene itself. I would love to do it again next year! Honestly, this was the best field trip I had in a long time,” explained 7th grade student, Emma Petersen.

“Being a photographer on the crime scene was fun and exciting. I had a great time being a part of the arson investigation,” said 7th grade student, Charlie Fouhy.

Photos from the mock investigation can be found in the LBUSD Pixieset.