The students ducked under the police tape and entered the scene of a bloody homicide.
Then, Lyndon Rabe, of Shawnee, did the unthinkable - he leaned forward and put his hands on the table in front of him.
"You know what you just did?" Sgt. Steve McCorkill chided the sixth-grader. "You left evidence. What if that was the only place the killer touched?"
This was why police officers had a rule about keeping their hands in their pockets at a crime scene, McCorkill explained.
But it was OK, because there was no real killer. The body on the floor was a dummy, and the "blood spatters" in the kitchen of the Shawnee Civic Centre were just a mix of cocoa, vegetable oil and red food coloring.
The scene was set up Thursday as part of the Forensics Science Lab program offered through Shawnee Parks and Recreation Department. The visit to the crime scene was just a preliminary one to see what kinds of evidence the 18 class members could observe; the rest of the 3 1/2-hour class taught participants, ages 10 to 15, how to properly analyze evidence at a crime scene. Students then returned to the scene to search for evidence and find the "killer."
It's not like CSI
Class teachers McCorkill and Terry Kegin, community policing officer, also tried to dispel misconceptions popularized by TV shows such as the CSI series. For instance, murder cases can take up to three years to solve, they said.
"On TV, they always solve it in an hour," McCorkill said.
Police on TV shows also seem to find a match in their computer for every fingerprint they find at a crime scene.
"In real life, not everybody's in the computer system; not everybody's DNA is on file," Kegin said.
Fingerprinting was one of the main processes of collecting evidence the program covered. Participants got to use fingerprinting powder and brushes to learn how to lift fingerprints from Plexiglas panes.
McCorkill asked class members what they would do if they found 20 or 30 different fingerprints at a crime scene.
"We could find out if they're all working together as part of a secret plot," Jacob Porter, of Shawnee, suggested.
"Wow -that's what we would call a conspiracy theorist," McCorkill said. "But that's probably not the case. You know why? I bet I could tell one of you a secret now and by the end of class, everyone would know. It's hard to keep a secret."
The class also learned about photographing evidence, taking molds of footprints and tire tracks, and pulling evidence off computers and other technological items.
Eric Ely, programming recreation specialist, said he came up with the idea for the summer program when searching for something of interest for the preteen and early teen population.
"It hits that age group that's really hard to program to," he said. "I know that kids like to solve things, and I know crime scenes and mystery have been a big topics on television lately. Hopefully, it sparks their interest to do something in the future with the city."
Ely said he'd originally asked the Johnson County Sheriff's Crime Lab to teach the course, but when lab officials said their schedule was too full, he turned to Shawnee's police force.
After learning the correct processes, the students went back to the crime scene to gather evidence and take notes in their own police notebooks.
"They questioned me as a witness," Ely said. "They were really into it, and I tell you what, they were seriously interrogating me."
The students gathered all the right clues to solve the murder mystery.
"In the end, they asked all the right questions, found all the clues, and determined it was me who committed the crime," Kegin said.
Ely said Shawnee Parks and Recreation would like to offer the class again in the fall because several people called trying to take the class after it was full.