Criminal justice class experiences a simulated crime scene conducted by the Avery County Sheriff’s Office

April 25, 2014

On Thursday, April 24, crime scene tape and evidence bags could be found on Lees-McRae’s campus as part of a simulated crime scene conducted by the Avery County Sheriff’s Office. Criminal justice students in the Perspectives in Policing class enjoyed this exciting opportunity to sift through evidence and solve the crime as they brought their classroom studies into the real world.

“We did this exercise as part of our study on investigation in my Perspectives in Policing class,” said Tracy Hoilman, professor of criminal justice. “It let the students learn hands-on what happens in an actual crime scene.”

The crime scene simulation was conducted by Detectives Troy Cook, Danny Phillips and Frank Catalano of the Avery County Sheriff’s Office along with Hoilman and adjunct Criminal Justice Instructor, Ron Davis. The exercise included a briefing, an examination of the crime scene, a guided explanation of each student’s role in the scenario as they “worked” the scene and a debriefing. The simulation began at 8:30 a.m. and by 12:30 p.m. the students had examined all the evidence and determined what crime was committed and who committed it.

“This year’s crime was a murder of a male subject,” said Hoilman. “A friend of the deceased (played by one of our students) committed the murder by stabbing the male subject with a screwdriver multiple times in the back. Our students learned that multiple stabs wounds indicate that the victim and the perpetrator most likely knew each other and had a relationship of some sort (friend, romantic, family, etc.).”

The crime scene was staged in an empty house on the campus of Lees-McRae. Students collected, bagged and labeled evidence which included blood spatter, a screwdriver, drink cans and mugs (which provided a lesson in lifting fingerprints), a sweatshirt with multiple stab wounds and a fake dead body. They took crime scene photographs, identified and interviewed witnesses, and dealt with the media and other parties not involved in the crime scene. In addition, they also learned to make decisions about search warrants and probable cause.

“One of the best things about being involved in the criminal justice department is that you get to be involved in hands-on activities,” said Dalton Lamb, a Lees-McRae student. “We got to experience what it would be like to be investigators at a crime scene getting to talk with seasoned real-life investigators, getting to ask questions and gaining insight from professionals, which is not something you get to experience every day. This is what sets apart the criminal justice department. It is extremely special to participate in activities that prepare you for life outside the classroom.” 

“I love my criminal justice classes,” said Alexis Franco, a Lees-McRae student. “It is a great learning experience to work with the detectives and it shows us all the possibilities for the future.”

For more information on criminal justice at Lees-McRae College, please contact Sue Hart, chair of the Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences, at

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Keyly Guzman examining the fake dead body.
Detective Troy Cook discussing the scenario with students.
Keyly Guzman collecting evidence.
Detective Frank Catalano helping student Dalton Lamb.