Dressed from head to toe in a white Tyvek suit, Andrew Leathem scoured an area roped off by crime tape Monday morning for evidence that would help his team solve the attempted murder and kidnapping they were told took place there.
Leathem, 18, a senior at Oceanside High School, and his classmates meticulously documented and recovered every fingerprint, footprint, hair follicle, insect, weapon and drop of blood they found at the mock crime scene set up inside Stony Brook University’s Student Activities Center. Then, they rushed all the evidence upstairs, where other team members were waiting to examine it for clues to determine who tried to kill escaped inmate Wildcat Willie and captured Det. C. Gar Butz.
The Oceanside High School forensic team went up against 33 other groups from Long Island, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and upstate New York in the 13th annual CSI Challenge and took first place. Many of the students had been preparing all year long for the competition.
“I love the forensics field,” said Michael Bayer, an Oceanside High School senior and aspiring cop, as he studied real bullets in the ballistics lab. “I love the mystery …and the science of it.”
David Tricamo, a detective with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office and, separately, the competition’s creator and coordinator, said the event tests students on their knowledge of criminal investigation, science, “and how they think.”
“Do they think out of the box and how do they synthesize all this information being thrown at them?”
The students were also expected to read a 35-page story and interrogate the “suspects,” all while being evaluated by judges. For this year’s case, Tricamo brought back all the “convicts” -- played by his friends and relatives -- from the past 12 CSI Challenges and had them escape from a fictitious Long Island jail.
“They give the kids a run for their money,” said Tricamo, of the actors who return each year.
Tricamo tries to make the experience as real as possible for the students, adding, “The hairs, the fingerprints, the soil, the bugs .. It’s as real as I can make it without having them come out on patrol with me.”
Although the program requires much work, Tricamo said his team is inspired to keep it going by the feedback they receive from students and teachers who participate.
Laura Canino, a forensic science teacher at Syosset High School, said the program allows her students to put into practice the skills they study throughout the year. Some of her past pupils have since become police officers and one is now a medical examiner, she said.
“It’s great to see ... what they do with it, because there are so many directions you can go,” she added.
Leathem plans to pursue a career as a crime scene analyst.
“Being in there with your team, getting close to the ground, looking for the smallest detail ... felt very real,” he said of the competition. “I could definitely see myself doing this in the future.”