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After assault, forensic artist changes career path for 'dream job'

Danielle Gruttadaurio showed students photos of her sketches and explained craniofacial reconstruction using a fake skull.

Danielle Gruttadaurio, a Suffolk County police forensic artist, spoke Tuesday about her career to nearly 30 juniors and seniors studying criminal justice at Shoreham-Wading River High School. Gruttadaurio, who said she’s one of a handful of full-time forensic artists nationwide, talked about how she turned a passion for art into a career in law enforcement. (Credit: Newsday / Raychel Brightman)

A victim of assault, Danielle Gruttadaurio turned a passion for art into a career as a forensic artist for law enforcement.

Gruttadaurio is Suffolk County Police Department’s only forensic artist, channeling her talent and desire into thousands of cases, including recreating faces from the Gilgo Beach remains. 

Gruttadaurio, 36, spoke Tuesday about her career to nearly 30 juniors and seniors studying criminal justice at Shoreham-Wading River High School. She said her assault spurred her to work in law enforcement after she originally dreamed of a career at Marvel Comics.  “Younger than you, I was determined to be a forensic artist,” she said. 

Gruttadaurio said she’s one of a handful of full-time forensic artists nationwide, noting that there is one in Nassau County and three in the New York City Police Department. 

Despite Gruttadaurio’s efforts, her composite sketches of Jane Doe No. 6 and an Asian man found along Ocean Parkway have not led police to discovering their identities or solving the Gilgo Beach cases.

Now, her work is split between composite imagery, post-mortem imagery, age-progressed imagery, two- and three-dimensional craniofacial reconstruction and facial recognition. Hired in 2009 after being an art teacher, she works with victims to create sketches of suspects, makes age progression pictures of fugitives for cold cases, uses skulls to reconstruct a person’s face and uses technology and social media for facial recognition to track down defendants. 

“This is my dream job,” she said, adding that she was initially “laughed at” by police departments when she applied for forensic artist positions.  

She now assists the Texas Rangers, MTA, State Police and East End police departments, among others. 

Javon Evans, a senior in the class, said he was surprised how few full-time forensic artists are employed across the country. 

“This is way cooler than a typical class day,” he said. 

Ruth Squillace, a criminal justice teacher at Shoreham-Wading River, said she met Gruttadaurio through her work with the department’s Seventh Precinct Police Explorers youth program. She said she typically has about 30 guest speakers visit each class, and more than 80 of her high school graduates have gone on to careers in law enforcement. 

“I didn’t have anything like this growing up,” Gruttadaurio said. “For me, this has been very rewarding to help other people.”

On Tuesday, she showed students photos of her sketches, while explaining craniofacial reconstruction using a fake skull nicknamed “Bob” and how bone structure can help her come up with a sketch. She acknowledged difficulties working with victims because often it’s hard for them to explain what their attackers looked like — especially if the crime was over quickly. 

“By the time you get to my office, now you’re second-guessing yourself,” she said. “You’re not studying the person” during the incident. 

Still, her work has led to arrests. 

“No matter how weird the drawing looks, you’ll never know what prompts somebody to say, ‘he looks like so and so,’” she said.

with Raychel Brightman

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