As every good detective knows, it takes more than just a hunch and a motive to solve a crime — there must be evidence.
For the students in Kelsey Stuart’s forensics classes at Smith-Cotton High School, collecting and analyzing evidence has led them to solve the mystery of who stole the S-C tiger mascot.
“I truly believe that students learn more by doing and having actual hands on experiences,” Stuart said. “The field of science lends itself to a lot of really interesting experiments and activities.
“The content gets them interested, but I think it is my job to develop that interest because the students deserve the best quality education we can give them,” Stuart added. “What we have been doing the last two days in class is the culmination of several weeks of work.”
The 36 students in the two forensics classes have been working with fiber and impression evidence in an effort to solve the kidnapping of the S-C mascot.
“I gave my students a scenario that said the high school staff was planning a surprise birthday party for its most famous member, the Tiger mascot,” Stuart said. “Several staff members had agreed to take part in the party, which actually became a crime scene after the Tiger was catnapped, so to speak.
“The teachers had all gathered for the arrival of the Tiger at 11:35 a.m. in the cafeteria,” Stuart continued. “They waited patiently for the roar and snarl of the Tiger but, ‘Alas, they never heard his lovely snarl again.’”
Since the S-C cafeteria was dark so the staff could hide, when the lights were finally turned on, several pieces of evidence could be found in the room including some paw and human footprints and half-eaten treats with both tiger and human dental imprints.
Other evidence was also collected and bagged and a list of possible suspects with no alibis was provided to the students.
“I gave the classes the instructions that they had to thoroughly evaluate the evidence,” Stuart said. “They were to follow the same steps to assess the crime scene as any detective and crime lab would follow.
“I told them they could order any tests they wanted but before any warrants would be issued they had to convince me and the class as a whole that the evidence supported the need for a warrant.”
Several of the students thought they had solved the crime before they started to analyze the evidence.
“That is something we talked about as a class,” Stuart said. “I told the students they had to look outside the box and evaluate all the evidence before they came to a decision.
“That is something that has applications to their life as well,” Stuart added. “I think it is important for them to think about what they are doing and why they are doing it before they make any decision; they have to look at the long term implications. “
As a real life case, the students discussed the West Memphis Three trial.
In the 1994 trial, three men were convicted for the 1993 murders of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, even though there was no physical evidence to convict them of the crime at the time of the trial.
“Eighteen years after they were sentenced, new evidence came to light, and the convictions were overturned,” Stuart said. “That’s what I want my students to realize is that they have to look for those light bulb moments when they discover that what they think may be true, may not be.”
After all the evidence was analyzed in the S-C crime and the motives were studied, the students narrowed the suspects down to a list of three individuals.
“Luci McRoy, an administrative assistant to Principal Norton, was the perpetrator,” Stuart said. “It was really funny because a lot of the students first went to the teachers they knew well, thinking it was them.
“Mrs. McRoy is someone all of the students may have come in contact with,” Stuart added. “They never suspected her though because she is so helpful to everyone.”
McRoy said she was more than happy to be a part of the activity because it gave the students hands-on experience and was a fun, creative way for the students to learn.
“I’m completely innocent and I know I was framed,” McRoy said with a laugh. “Yes, I am a little bitter that Mr. Norton never lets me get out of the office because I always have to answer the phone.
“Yes, I’m mad and upset because I wasn’t given the opportunity to go to the Tiger’s birthday bash, but I didn’t do it,” McCroy continued. “So, if you want to blame anyone for Tiger’s kidnapping I think the blame should be placed on Mr. Norton.”
McRoy did want to assure everyone that no harm came to the Tiger and that during his missing days he was well fed and cared for and would soon be back on the prowl and courtside at S-C events.
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484