Amateur crime scene sleuths earn their way to national competition

FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -- A group of high school seniors eager to become crime scene investigators have a shot at becoming the best in the nation at gathering evidence, but the students are going to need some help to make that happen.

Students at Thomas Jefferson High School's Forensic CSI Club spent Tuesday afternoon investigating a crime in French class. The crime wasn't real, but the stakes are serious.

Unlike the real crime scene technicians, the Thomas Jefferson students get just 30 minutes to analyze, process and gather the staged evidence.

And it turns out they're good at what they do. It's all part of the National Skills Competition for crime scene investigation, which is held in Missouri.

"This is our second year competing in Skills USA," said forensic science teacher Tommy Decker. "Last year we took third place, this year they took first and we have another team that took third."

The Thomas Jefferson students are already Washington State champions, and they've qualified for the national competition.

"The collection itself, the skills, is second to none," said school resource officer Travis Tilford. "They're up to almost a five, six year officer."

The students are good at collecting fingerprints, but they're concerned they can't collect the $5,000 needed to travel to the national competition next month.

"My hope is we get to nationals. My concern is we don't make it due to money and I know we're good enough to compete there," said club member Lionel Estrada.

Tilford said the club is important, because the better the students become, the better it is for all of us.

"Well, these are our future crime scene analysts," he said. "When a crime scene happens, the best evidence collection makes or breaks a case."

The students have raised less than half of what they need. If you'd like to help, you can contact the office at Thomas Jefferson High School in Federal Way.