1. Pasco

Fingerprinting, sketching crime scenes, searching for remains: High schoolers become investigators at crime-scene camp

MICHELE MILLER | Times Zephyrhills High student, Laila Huffman, lifts a fingerprint during the CSI Summer Camp held June 16-21 at St. Leo University.
Published Jun. 25

ST. LEO — The metal lab tables were stocked with blue disposable gloves, brushes and fingerprint dust. On one side of the table sat soon-to-be high school junior Laila Huffman with her crime-scene kit. Her instructor, retired Pasco County Sheriff's Capt. Robert Sullivan, tasked her with removing a smudgy fingerprint off a whiteboard.

She placed a piece of clear tape on the finger print, rubbed on it, then slowly removed the print and placed it on an index card. In a real investigation, it could be used to match a person to a crime scene. Sullivan reminded her to initial the card to preserve the chain of custody for when evidence is used in court. Huffman, a Zephyrhills High School student, and 17 others were participating in Saint Leo University's six-day, crime-scene investigation camp from June 16-22. It's the camp's second year. The session paired the students with four of Saint Leo's faculty members, who have worked everywhere from Florida law enforcement agencies to an FBI evidence response team. Students came mostly from Florida, with a few from the northeast part of the country. The camp exposes them to criminal justice as a career field and also helps get students interested in Saint Leo. Four campers from the first camp have enrolled at Saint Leo for the fall.

Instructors taught students to lift fingerprints, sketch crime scenes, search for human remains and other forensics-related skills.

The students stepped into the role of investigators and learned that the work is more than what they see on TV crime shows. It requires long hours, careful collection of evidence and working outside in the hot sun, said camp instructor Joseph Cillo. Cillo, a former defense attorney, is an assistant professor at Saint Leo and teaches classes on serial killers and the U.S. Supreme Court. The camp is meant to be an amusement park of learning, he said, and he likes to think of himself as a tour guide rather than a lecturer. "They watch a lot of TV," Cillo said. But crime shows and news shows don't always accurately capture what the investigative and criminal trial process looks like.

At camp, they start with the basics. One task required them to measure the distance between small yellow markers set out by the instructors. They used tape measures and created baseline sketches outside in a campus courtyard. On the hot, sunny and humid day, an argument ensued among the students about whether they should measure in inches or centimeters. They needed to be precise so they could use the measurements later to model the crime scene.

Despite the sweaty conditions, Huffman was still excited.

"It's really cool when you get a good fingerprint," Huffman said, peering at the note card with her newly lifted print.

She's watched crime-scene investigation shows her whole life, though she knows that what takes place on TV isn't the same as forensics in real life. She's long admired the lab expert Abby Sciuto, a character from the hit show NCIS.

The gore of some forensic work, like seeing rotting bodies, doesn't scare her.

"It's disgusting, but it's life," she said.

She wants to pursue something related to forensics in college and for a career, but isn't sure what. She's still exploring. She said it would be cool to work for a big federal agency, like the FBI.

After a week of day-long workshops, instructor Cillo had a goal for the students.

"We want to fatigue them intellectually and physically," he said.

Contact Sarah Verschoor at Follow @SarahVerschoor.


  1. John McKitrick’s painting, Dubious Optimism, is among the artist’s works that are on exhibit at Gateway Gallery and Emporium in New Port Richey. Gateway Gallery
  2. Dad (Joe Santerelli) is showing the children how to efficiently take a bath using motion study. As he explains about grabbing a "cake" of soap, son Jackie (Cam Kennedy) tries to "eat" it. Meanwhile, Billie (Rachel George, far left) is mocking Dad from behind, in the Live Oak Theatre production of 'Cheaper by the Dozen.' Kristina Mitten
  3. Pasco High School's state grade for 2019 remains an "incomplete," with state officials finding not enough students were tested.
    A fourth has its request rejected, leaving it with an “incomplete” mark.
  4. Pasco County plans to reduce bus service to central Pasco. The route began in May 2017. Handout
    The cuts eliminate Saturday service and a route along Collier Parkway.
  5. H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute is the centerpiece of Project Arthur, an 800-acre corporate park that could include up 24 million square feet of office and industrial space on nearly 7,000 acres of what is now ranch land, but targeted for development in central Pasco. Times
    The H. Lee Moffitt facility is the centerpiece of an economic development effort in a proposed 800-acre corporate park.
  6. After more than 18 years as a Times columnist, Ernest Hooper starts a new chapter as assistant sports editor. JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Tampa Bay Times
    After more than 18 years as a Times columnist, Ernest Hooper starts a new chapter as assistant sports editor.
  7. Yesterday• Pasco
    The Port Richey Citizen's Advisory Committee recently installed a mini library at the Mallett Fishing Pier. The box has a painting that depicts the stilt houses off the Port Richey coast, Johnny Cash (who was known to have loved the city and visited often), as well as dolphins playing. This is the second mini library the committee has erected, with the first installed at City Hall, next to the dog park. Pictured, from left: Blaine Lee, builder of the mini library; City Council member Jennie Sorrell (committee member), Laurie (committee member) and Jeff Simpson, Judi Cain (artist), Interim City Council member Angel Nally (committee member) and Tom Kinsella (committee member). Claudia Smith
    News and notes about your neighbors
  8. The Dade City Monarch Butterfly Festival will be Oct. 12 in Hibiscus Park. AP
    News and notes from Pasco County
  9. Bubba's 33 recently broke ground on its first restaurant in Florida, which will open in Wesley Chapel in December. Pictured, left to right: Experience Florida's Sports Coast (Tourism) Director Adam Thomas, Bubba's 33 marketing director Crista Demers-Dean, Bubba's 33 managing partner Jeff Dean, Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore and North Tampa Bay Chamber CEO Hope Allen. Andy Taylor
    News and notes on local businesses
  10. Check for the latest breaking news and updates.
    His infant daughter suffered life-threatening injuries, officials said.