SPARTA, NJ – Students in the Helen Morgan CSI Explorations afterschool workshop had a couple of surprise visitors on Thursday. The session began with Sparta Lt. John Lamon speaking to Christina Faisca and Amanda Spence’s the fourth and fifth grade students about eyewitness testimony.
"This Explorations lesson served as a model for the ideal student classroom experience," Principal Doug Layman said. "A fun, hands-on and authentic learning activity with support from real-world experts."
"Students became professional CSI agents in a matter of minutes during Lieutenant Lamon's presentation," Faisca said. "They were analyzing clues and recollecting what they had just seen based on what the suspect had been wearing and what he looked like."
Just a few minutes into Lamon’s talk the classroom door flew open and a man in a ski mask and [fake] knife seemed to attack Lamon. The two tussled for a minute or two and after Lamon was able to pull off the mask, the ‘attacker’ ran out as quickly as he had arrived. The attacker was Sparta Cpl. David Pridham.
The students were then given a worksheet with categories of characteristics police would ask about in trying to solve a crime. The students did their best to give a description of the attackers eye color, “brown, blue/greenish,” height, “6’4”, 5’4” and 6’1”, weight, “250, 215,” hair color “baldish with gray.”
One student observed a red bandana hanging out of a back pocket. Another said the sweatshirt had a logo. One saw the knife. One of the most impressive observations was that there was a sound of shaking beads or BBs- Pridham, had a box of tic tacs in his pocket.
The students missed some big things such as a large emblem on the back of the sweatshirt, one glove on one hand and the other in the back pocket and a bandana tied around his ankle.
Lamon explained it is important to scan the whole scene to take in all clues, not just focus on one segment. He said often when asking a witness about a weapon the response is typically “it was big” because that is all they focus on.
Students had a lot to discuss and had some questions about crime and crime scene investigation. They heard about collection of evidence from footprints to hairs. The students heard bad guys often do not get rid of clothing and other things they had with them while committing a crime and that is often what gets them caught.
“If you are stealing things because you don’t have a lot of money you are not going to throw away your sweatshirt, if it is your only sweatshirt,” Pridham said.
The police do use eyewitness information, Lamon explained, as help in their criminal investigations.
“Most of the time the witness who gives a description really wants to help police,” Lamon said. “Sometimes they might guess an answer because they really want to help. They are no lying, just filling in the blanks of what they don’t know. The brain wants to fill in the blanks.”
Lamon said the exercise shows that many people can experience the same thing and see things differently. “There were 17 pairs of eyes and everyone saw something different.”
The officers explained they would use eyewitness descriptions to “put out a BOLO or be on the look out,” notification with local police.
He went on to say, the exercise shows that many people can experience the same thing and see things differently.
“It is always great to have an eyewitness,” Lamon said. “It helps to give our case credibility. Good investigators try to take everything into account, to catch the bad guys.”
"Students were eager to learn about eyewitness identification after having a first- hand eyewitness experience staged act between Lieutenant Lamon and Corporal Pridham," Faisca said. "The students had a blast learning about the importance of observation of eye witnessed crimes."
Layman said, "Thank you to our friends at the Sparta Police Department for their time, effort and enthusiasm."
Helen Morgan school offers several different Explorations workshops afterschool sponsored by the PTO. The workshops are taught by Helen Morgan faculty members. It is tuition based, receiving no funding from the district.
There are three sessions a year, each session runs six weeks. Families could choose from winter session course offerings Choose Kind with Chalk and Paint, Coding, Tumbling, STEM Challenge, Fidget Making, Wood Creations, Printmaking Studio, Word Games Workshop, Indoor Competitive Fun and Games, Mini-Musical, Sportsmania, Speed Stackers Club, CSI, Creative Writing, Origami, on Wednesdays or Thursdays.